Monday 28 February 2011

Record and be damned!

Rog T has posted a video clip of a segment from Barnet Council’s Business Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting which took place on 28th February 2011. Cllr Hugh Rayner demonstrates his contempt for democratic accountability by trying to prevent the recoding from taking place.

Not wishing to be outdone, Don’t Call Me Dave has now posted an audio recording of the Cabinet Resources Committee meeting of 19th January 2009. Mike Freer was the leader at the time and he is discussing Agenda Item 11 which related to the proposed increase in burial charges.

It is self evident from this clip that there was no disruption to the council’s business whatsoever. Indeed, until now, the council was completely unaware that DCMD had even recorded the meeting. Lynne Hillan’s reason for opposing public recording is her belief that we cannot be trusted to do so responsibly. This is demonstrably not the case.

The issue of public recording is not new. In March 2008, DCMD asked Mike Freer for his opinion on this matter and he replied: “I do not support members of the public recording off their own bat - we would have no control over cutting and splicing. Recording by the council under correct supervision is fine.”

It is typical of the council’s bunker mentality that Freer should have replied in this way. There is no evidence to indicate that the public would want to use recordings improperly.

Freer’s suggestion that only the council could be trusted to make recordings is more in keeping with a Stalinist dictatorship than a forward looking and enlightened English democratic council. But if he was happy for the council to record meetings, why did he not allow it under his watch? Given that you can record about 8 hours worth of video on a DVD costing 10p, the council could easily record all public meetings. If a member of the public did try to improperly “splice” their own recording, they would quickly be found out - assuming that the council itself could be trusted not to selectively edit the disks.

Camden Council not only records its meetings, but makes them available for public download from their web site. So does the Government and the European Parliament, which begs the question as to why Barnet Council considers itself so important that it can operate a blanket ban precisely when other institutions are opening themselves up to greater scrutiny?

The public has an absolute right to observe meetings of the Council and there is nothing in law which says that public meetings cannot be recorded. Given that not everyone has access to the Town Hall, public recordings are entirely justifiable and beneficial for democracy.

At a time when the standing of politicians is at an all time low, especially in Barnet, restricting public scrutiny of proceedings will only add to suspicions that they have something to hide. It seems a poor state of affairs that local councils now have the power to bug our phones as a measure to prevent fly-tipping, but the public cannot make a recording of a public meeting.

A fundamental aspect of democracy is that politicians are our servants and not our masters. The moment they come to think of themselves as our masters, we are on the road to tyranny.


Rog T said...

Well done David for publishing this. As it was recorded in 2009, it is good to see the world didn't stop revolving

DarkKnight said...

For many years the proceedings of the House of Commons, House of Lords and committees have been broadcast live on TV. Anyone with a video or DVD recorder or Sky Plus can record the proceedings for themselves off air.

It's very odd then that some tin-pot local authority should decide its proceedings must be kept from the public.

If Barnet Council were on the ball (and democratically minded) they could easily offer a live feed of Council Meetings over the internet. What have they got to hide? Or will they tell the Government they are simply too important to be part of the Big Society?