Victory For Cambridge Blogger As Pickles Rules On Filming Council Meetings

david17:39 Thursday 31st October 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Another blow for openness and transparency in public life has been struck, following a campaign led by a Cambridgeshire activist. People who want to film and report on council meetings will have new rights, allowing them to do so. The Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has just announced that a new law will be put before Parliament. He had been lobbied by the Cambridge based journalist who’s with me in the studio now, Richard Taylor. Hi Richard.
RICHARD TAYLOR: Good evening Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Last time you were in here, you had, not exactly stormed, but you tried to film I think it was the Huntingdonshire ..
RICHARD TAYLOR: Yes it was Huntingdon District Council. Because Eric Pickles had said that we could just go along to council meetings and film them. He’d given guidance and asked councillors to open their doors to people like me who want to film, tweet, photograph and blog from council meetings.
CHRIS MANN: And when you went there they obviously hadn’t had the message from Mr Pickles, because they threw you out. (LAUGHS)
RICHARD TAYLOR: That’s right. It seems like the Minister Eric Pickles now has got fed up with local councillors not considering his guidance, and not doing what he wants, and he’s decided to go ahead and pass a law.
CHRIS MANN: You’ve actually had hostility at meetings, and they’ve prevented you filming.

RICHARD TAYLOR: That’s right. Not only have I been prevented from filming in some places, but I’ve also had some very crazy restrictions put on filming. Things like having to tell the chairman in advance. It seems quite a nominal reasonable thing, but that means you can’t spontaneously film when something interesting happens. You can’t just take your camera out, your phone out, and take a picture. I’ve had to keep my camera in one position. I’ve had to stand away from my camera during the meetings so I can’t  turn it on and off. And panning and zooming was banned at Cambridge City Council.
CHRIS MANN: And yet one would think the council would want more exposure of the good work they do.
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well I think we do have some good councillors. But unfortunately, even across the country, there are a lot of councillors who weren’t prepared to allow people in to photograph and film their meetings. There was an incident just earlier this week in Bournemouth where someone was filming a meeting and they were thrown out. So it doesn’t unfortunately seem that Eric Pickles can leave it to the councillors. He can’t go with his localism and things that he’s a fan of, and if he wants transparency in local government he’s going to have to go with this law.
CHRIS MANN: Well you heard Shailesh Vara the MP for North West Cambridgeshire and the Courts Minister talking earlier on about this idea of allowing some of the court proceedings, not all but some of it, to be shown on television. Are there similarities with what happens in a council meeting? Are there things there that shouldn’t be seen?
RICHARD TAYLOR: There’s certainly similarities in the kind of environment it is when you go in. For someone like me it’s relatively intimidating environment. You’ve got to follow their rules very carefully, and if you get something wrong you will be told off. When I first found there was a problem with taking photographs in a council meeting the Sergeant at Mace at Cambridge City Council came bounding up the stairs to the public gallery, dressed in his full regalia, to tell me off. I’ve had similar experiences when I’ve been observing in court as well. I’ve had the ushers come up to me and tell me that I’ve got to turn my mobile phone off for example.
CHRIS MANN: You can’t break the rules. Now what do you do with the material Richard?
RICHARD TAYLOR: I use it to comment on what’s going on. So I put it on YouTube, I put it on my website. And actually sometimes other people use it as well. I filmed a local council meeting in Cambridge last week, and somebody else actually was interested in one of the items, and he transcribed some of what was happening, so that he could comment on it. So it helps all sorts of people.
CHRIS MANN: It used to be of course that all of these council meetings were covered by local papers, and then in time by local radio, local television, all the rest of it. Less and less of that is happening now. Are you very often alone when you go to these meetings, in terms of the media, the fifth estate?
RICHARD TAYLOR: Yes, often there’s only me there. There’s no professional press, although in Cambridge we do have Chris Havergal from Cambridge News. He attends an awful lot of council meetings, so we are lucky there. I actually hope that Eric Pickles’ new law will help not just people like me, but it will help the professional press too. And hopefully they’ll go along with their cameras and they’ll be able to get more interesting stories from council meetings, and audio clips and videos and photographs to accompany them, that we might see more coverage from them as well.
CHRIS MANN: Richard, if people are interested in your work, where can they see some more clips of council meetings?
RICHARD TAYLOR: Well I’ve got a website, And I tweet @rtayloruk.