Dear Mr Pickles:
I write a blog in the London Borough of Barnet, and was last week very pleased to read that you had issued new guidelines which support the efforts of myself and other citizen journalists to report and record council meetings, using a variety of new media. Personally I prefer to use notebook and shorthand, but I support the right of those who wish to film or record the meetings using such methods, especially as here in Barnet our council refuses, in contrast to the open policies of surrounding boroughs, to film meetings for the benefit of residents.
I am sure you will understand my fury this morning to read the following story in the online local paper:
Not only has the leader, Lynne Hillan, banned filming, she has insulted the citizen journalists and bloggers of this borough by stating that they are not 'respectable'. This article surely demonstrates yet again that this maverick Conservative council acts without real committment to the values and policies of the central party, and has no intention of obeying your instructions. Surely you realise the damage that is being done to the reputation of the Conservative party both here and nationally by the behaviour of this administration?
In the letter sent by Bob Neill last week, it was stated that to suppress filming, tweeting etc would be 'at odds with the fundamentals of democracy'. It is up to you now to defend the democratic process here in Barnet and take urgent action to deal with the disaffected leadership which seems so intent on defying your wishes.
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From: mrs angry
Dear Ms Hillan,
I have noted with amusement the remarks made by you in the local Times group newspaper this morning on the issue of residents reporting council meetings by the use of filming, tweeting and other new media sources.
You claim in this article not to have discussed the matter with party colleagues or officers, which would seem most remiss of you, if true.
It may perhaps be the case that, oh dear, you have also forgotten to read the letter sent to all local authorities last week by Bob Neill in which he clearly states:
"There are recent stories about people being ejected from council meetings for blogging, tweeting or filming. This potentially is at odds with the fundamentals of democracy and I want to encourage all councils to take a welcoming approach to those who want to bring local news stories to a wider audience. The public should rightly expect that elected representatives who have put themselves up for public office be prepared for their decisions to be as transparent as possible and welcome a direct line of communication to their electorate. I do hope that you and your colleagues will do your utmost to maximise the transparency and openness of your council."
I realise that a committment to the fundamentals of democracy is not something we neccessarily associate with the leadership of the present Conservative administration here in Broken Barnet, but I would have thought that you might wish to comply with the clearly stated instructions of Eric Pickles and Bob Neill in this matter, and desist from trying to prevent the filming of council meetings by any resident who wishes, in the absence of any council organised initiative, to extend the accessibilty and scrutiny of the democratic process. I believe that such accountability is a prerequisite of any move towards the oft mentioned Conservative principle of 'localism' and that no sensible Tory could possibly raise any objections to such a move. Admittedly the shortage of sensible Tories in Barnet may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle in this respect.
In your entertaining comments to the press, you have distinguished between 'respectable' journalists, and bloggers. I am of course very glad to see that you consider yourself qualified to be the ultimate judge of respectabilty. I cannot speak for my fellow bloggers, but I am able to assure you that I am indeed a NCTJ trained journalist, and as such prefer to report meetings by the use of notebook and teeline, but if I choose to abandon such 'respectable' methods and film or tweet I am pleased to note that I will be able to do so without fear of one of your black suited security men whispering in my ear.
(Haven't had a reply, yet, sadly.)
Oh, and by the way, Queen Canute: the tide is rolling in ...http://davidhencke.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/praise-be-pickles-pity-about-your-party-activists/
* and now blogger Vicki Morris reports a challenge on grounds including the Human Rights Act has been made in the form of a letter to the Leader: see her blog for further information:
** 10 pm : rumour has it on twitter that blogger Rog T has tried filming at a committee meeting tonight, was loudly told three times to stop at once, and then left.
Update: see film on his blog - http://tinyurl.com/6jqkrjv marvel at Chair Hugh Rayner trying to shout him down. This is democracy, as we do it in our borough. Eric and Bob must be so proud.