Your AM Writes: South Wales East AM William Graham
4:01pm Tuesday 27th August 2013 in News
Should government be open?
Parliament was once highly secretive; an official record of decisions was taken, but no record of debates. The publication of MP’s speeches was a breach of Parliamentary privilege and printing them was subjected to fines. In 1771 when Brass Crosby was Lord Mayor of London, a printer was brought before him for publishing reports of Parliamentary proceedings. When Crosby released him, he was summoned to appear before the House to explain his actions and was committed to the Tower of London.
Today, our television and radio News covers ‘live’ debates and committees at the UK and Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland and Welsh Assembly. I appreciate these broadcasts are sometimes limited to ‘sound bites’, however there are channels allow us to witness these events as they happen.
It is reassuring to be able to see and hear our elected representatives debate the merits of legislation they seek to introduce, or the reasoning behind the actions they take.
Many of the decisions that have the greatest impact upon our everyday lives (e.g. should some our street lighting be turned off at night, setting fees at leisure centres, our libraries, planning new housing developments) are made by our local councils. Often it is decisions taken at this level that stir people into becoming more active in community interests.
Is it right for our local council meetings to be open to use of social media?
In 2011 when a lady who used her phone to record a Carmarthenshire Council debate and refused to leave the public gallery, she was arrest for ‘breaching the peace’, handcuffed and taken to Llanelli police station.
I do not condone her action, if it is not clear, it is right and courteous to always ask for permission before blogging or filming council meetings; a practice used by Bridgend Council where this is allowed at the discretion of the chairperson.
Currently Newport Council allows tweeting, Monmouthshire blogging and filming, and Torfaen is preparing to have live webcasting of meetings. Blaenau Gwent has no firm policy at the moment, but did allow the use of social media during the planning meeting to consider the Circuit of Wales race track application.
I believe that it is right to allow wider public access to the debates and decisions taken by our local councils, and to use this as an opportunity for people to engage in the issues affecting their community.
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