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Lights, Camera – Abusive Reaction
Tuesday 4th February 2014 was the date; 6:45pm the time.
The location; Pannett Park Art Gallery, Whitby.
The occasion; Whitby Town Council’s February Meeting.
I arrived punctually at the Gallery, and wandered into the chamber where the Council meets on a monthly basis to carry out its statutory duties. As always, the hall is clean, tidy and a pleasure to visit.
Unlike some other Council venues, there is a hot-drinks machine available for visitors to obtain some refreshment. It isn’t “tea and scones at the Ritz”, but it is far more than many other Councils offer.
Within minutes of arriving, the Town Mayor, Councillor John Freeman, joined me in the ‘public gallery’ to ask if I had any intentions of filming the proceedings, to which I stated that I did.
We had a discussion about how, in his view, I needed to have permission of the Copyright holders of the artworks on display before I could film within the Gallery, and certainly wouldn’t be able to film the Council as a result. I didn’t agree with the Mayor’s position, and he didn’t agree with mine, but our exchange of views was conducted evenly and with mutual respect.
Presently, the Deputy Clerk of the Council joined Cllr Freeman and I with some papers, indicating the guidelines issued by CPALC, (Communities, Parishes and Local Councils – the body which provides legal guidance for local councils) which state that Parish/Town Councils are not obliged to give their permission when members of the public wish to film. Strictly, this is only partially true – and misleadingly so. In fact, Councils are not authorised to withhold permission, which is not necessary in law. Permission is not required.
I had with me a document from the Chairman of ACPO ( the Association of Chief Police Officers ), stating that the public have no need to obtain a permit to film in a public place, and that the Police (nor anyone else) has no power to prevent the public from filming. The actual wording reads:
“Freedom to photograph and film Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.”
Next we come to the definition of “public place”. If we take a look at the Public Order Act 1936, and in relation to which, the Criminal Justice Act 1972, we find the following:
33 Extension of definition of “public place” in Public Order Act 1936.
For the definition of “public place” in section 9(1) of the M1 Public Order Act 1936 there shall be substituted—
“Public place” includes any highway and any other premises or place to which at the material time the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise.
As a result, it would appear that, by definition, every Council meeting constitutes a “public place”, where no powers exist to prevent a member of the public from filming, or making a recording.
Mayor Freeman, went away, with the Deputy Clerk after being made aware of this information, to discuss the Council’s position.
After a few minutes, the Mayor and Deputy Clerk returned to the Council chamber to discuss this issue with the rest of the members present, and put it to them that there would be filming in progress.
Quite a number of those present expressed an interest in the idea of being filmed, and allowing transparency to prevail.
However, an argument was put forth that suggested that the Council was wary of the video being used in such a way that could ridicule the Council, or members of it. So I was asked if I would be happy to provide a copy of any recordings made at the end of each session, so that no questions could be asked about the content of any video, and that the Council itself could be assured that no editing was taking place of any recordings made.
I agreed to this and paused the recording, and turned off the camera. You can see for yourself, here. The clear indication was that if I provided an unedited copy of the proceedings, then recording would be acceptable to all those present – irrespective of the lawful position.
Interestingly, towards end of the meeting, Cllr Mrs Amanda Smith, queried the Council members present about an amendment on a proposal that was Minuted as having made at previous meeting, though she did not remember having done so. In the Minutes of the previous meeting, Cllr Mrs Smith was said to have tabled an Amendment to a Proposal, of which she asserted she had no personal recollection. A lengthy discussion ensued, up to the point that Mayor Freeman announced that “our two colleagues at the back, in the public gallery, are gleeful that we cannot agree on the content of our last meeting” – whilst I wasn’t ‘gleeful’, I did find it fascinating that my idea of recording the meeting would have alleviated the need to question minutes, and a lack of recollection. A clear indication, if ever one was needed, that a video recording of all meetings would prevent any inaccuracies from arising in Minutes, etc.
At the end of the meeting, which I might add was quite up-beat and productive (certainly not boring), I approached the Mayor and Deputy Mayor about the issue of filming.
During our conversation, it was made clear that a Council that embraced changes such as those being brought forth in the 21st Century would be seen to be ‘ahead of the curve’. It would also allow the Council to make the claim that it truly is embracing the ideals of transparency, in the modern age. The Council could also claim that it was attempting to engage the electorate in as many ways as possible, especially for the fact that by providing direct video on the internet, that people who would ordinarily be unable to attend Council meetings could participate via the video links on the internet – certainly the very idea of open and engaging governance!
Cllr Freeman certainly should be commended and applauded for accepting this idea.
However, the proceedings were brought into a negative light by Cllr Noreen Wilson (Lab.), who attacked me verbally at the end of the meeting.
Her words to me, without provocation, or even any form of interaction, were:
Those certainly are not the words of a fine, upstanding member of the community. They were witnessed by several members of the public, and Cllr Phil Trumper (at least). Whilst I have every regard for Noreen’s opinion, and respect her right to express herself, I’m sure she would be the first to cry foul if I had were to address her in a similar arrogant fashion.
Worse still, upon contacting her for a statement in relation to this issue (via email) her response was “Who are you and what/who do you represent please?” … this despite providing an email detailing that I would be developing this story the next day or so, with a view to publication.
All that remains, is to say that I will be attending the next meeting of WTC with a view to recording, and will happily provide an un-edited copy of the recording to WTC immediately after the meeting, in order to ensure that all parties are represented accurately.
Updates will be forthcoming as they are available.
One other slightly sour note should be mentioned. Members of the public leaving the meeting after only half an hour or so were surprised to see a Police car blocking the only exit from Pannett Park, clearing the way only when they had satisfied themselves that no activists were attempting an escape.
When the Police attended a Council Meeting at Seamer & Crossgates recently, the lead Officer explained to the council that there was no prohibition against filming. Regrettably, the Chairman, Councillor Harry Smith, stubbornly refused to accept the inevitable and promptly adjourned the meeting - thus grabbing first prize in the Private Eye ‘Rotten Boroughs’ annual “Open Government” Award.