Should reporters be allowed to live tweet council meetings?

It’s the morning of the 8th of January, and a meeting of the Wrexham County Borough Council in North Wales is about to get under way.

It’s the morning of the 8th of January, and a meeting of the Wrexham County Borough Council in North Wales is about to get under way. Steve Bragnell, a reporter from The Daily Post newspaper, is in attendance at that meeting, which is to discuss a rise in the price of fares for school buses in the area, according to a report from the journalism news web site the Press Gazette.

Yet, before the meeting begins, controversy sparked. Bragnell was barred by the Council from live tweeting the meeting. Bragnell was not allowed to do so under Standing Order 45 of its constitution. “Proceedings at meetings may not be photographed, videoed, sound recorded or transmitted in any way outside the meeting without prior permission of the Chair,” the constitution reads. “Failure to comply with this Standing Order may invoke Standing Orders 15 and 16 relating to Disorderly Conduct and Disturbance by members of the public.” It is said, according to the Press Gazette, that the ban has been in place for nearly two years.

Alison Gow, the editor of the Daily Post, took to Twitter and criticised the decision made by the Council to ban Bragnell from tweeting. “Baffled and angry by @wrexhamcbc banning live tweets from today’s meeting, including @DPWrexNews,” Gow said. “It’s undemocratic. When you consider some local councils *live stream* their debates ad hoc Twitter lockdowns is crazy.”

Gow, in an interview with Kettle, said that the decision was controversial. “The decision was based on this being a controversial issue and not being reported in real time,” Gow said. “I think it was controlling and that’s what annoys me. What annoys me is that people are put there by the electorate saying you know what I’ll control what you see.”

This week, The Daily Post will start a campaign promoting transparency and government. Gow says the campaign is not to protest against the decision by the Council, saying that live streaming and live tweeting should be part of the local authority’s service.

As reaction of this ban is gauged and discussion continues, there are a number of questions at hand, not just on the ability to have the meetings be live streamed for the public, but how content that is of the public interest can be created by journalists amidst difficulties.

The Welsh government, in a statement to the journalism news web site, has said it is in favor of the ability to broadcast proceedings. “The Minister has placed on record his support for the principle of broadcasting the proceedings of council meetings that are open to the public,” a spokesperson said. “The plethora of modern technology channels now readily available to the public means that this is possible without prohibitive expense and should be seen as a means of increasing public engagement with their local government.”

A spokesman for the Wrexham Council said councillors from the Independent Group submitted a motion for the order to be revised. It is to be considered on the 21st of January.

Gow adds that it is important that the public bodies are publicly accountable. “We believe there should be an open, transparent agreement that you can tweet or text in all council,” Gow said, noting that they have been checking with other councils in Wales of their policies as part of their campaign. “We want consistency—an agreement that publicly accountable bodies are open to the public.”

What do you think of the ban by the Wrexham Council? Do you think journalists should be able to live tweet council meetings without restrictions? How important is the access of this information to you and others? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user comingstobrazil.