I agree with Eric
Hold onto your seats and don’t adjust your screens, I am about to say words I didn’t ever expect to say.
I agree with Eric Pickles.
Not generally of course, but recently he has decided to attack local government in a new (and seemingly random as ever) way, this time under the mantle of transparency and openness. Yes, the Pickleator has written to local government and told them that bloggers should have the same rights as the accredited press.
So that I don’t misquote him, here is the message he sent out:
Fifty years ago, Margaret Thatcher changed the law to make councils open their meetings to the press and public. This principle of openness needs to be updated for the 21st Century. More and more local news comes from bloggers or citizen journalists telling us what is happening at their local council. Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don’t seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in. With local authorities in the process of setting next year’s budget this is more important than ever.
And he stressed, “Opening the door to new media costs nothing and will help improve public scrutiny. The greater powers and freedoms that we are giving local councils must be accompanied by stronger local accountability. We are in the digital age and this analogue interpretation of the press access rules is holding back a new wave of local scrutiny, accountability and armchair auditors.”
Who would have thought it? The man who appears to have a mission to alienate every public sector worker is actually saying something that some of us agree with. Not all of course, there will still be those who feel that not just bloggers should be barred from public meetings but that all press should, but there is an ever growing army of those who want to see more transparency than ever before.
This doesn’t come without problems to be addressed of course. Some of what is discussed at certain meetings may be confidential or sensitive information, although of course this gets leaked easily enough anyway as it is. There is also a limited number of spaces available for members of the public at many council venues, what happens when all of these are taken up with bloggers and amateur journalists?
And of course, how will this affect those journos? What possible role will there be for them when others are doing their job but for free? They may have a slightly nicer writing style and a built in readership through their parent publication, but blogging is rapidly becoming a way more and more people get their news anyway, as well as getting their social commentary from the same sources.
These are minor issues though, and ones that perhaps aren’t for local government to worry about. The best result for open government is that the correct information goes out to as many people in as many ways as possible. If this is through ‘official’ channels all well and good, but if this is through non-controlled ones the world will not come to an end.
In any case, most of the real work is done outside of proper council meetings anyway. What issue is debated for the first time in council chambers that hasn’t already gone through weeks or months of discussions and backroom arguments? Opening meetings up will do nothing other than mean more people will have the opportunity to share what the council is planning.
There is no guarantee that this offer will be taken up of course. Bloggers have no requirement to attend and often have other commitments. They should not be used as a key way of getting information out there as there is no way for a council to make them write about developments (and nor should there be). However, with the option there people will be able to should they want to, and that is what counts.
Realistically I can’t see the audience seats suddenly filled with people holding handheld video cameras, with laptops burning their laps whilst they tweet with abandon. What I can see are a small number of interested people coming along more often than they currently do and providing an independent commentary of proceedings.
Please don’t take this phrase out of context, but well done Eric Pickles.