Friday, 17 May 2013

Social media ban at Wrexham Council meetings to be lifted

Leader article on proposals by Wrecsam Council to allow the use of social media in council meetings:

WREXHAM Council looks set to lift its ban on social media at meetings.

Under standing order 45 of the authority’s constitution, photographing, videoing, sound recording or transmitting proceedings from meetings is not allowed without permission of the chair.

In December Gwersyllt West councillor Arfon Jones was rebuked for using Twitter at an executive board meeting by the authority’s chief executive Dr Helen Paterson.

It led to calls from some councillors for the rules to be changed to aid transparency.

In January the Wrexham Independent Group put forward a motion to revoke the standing order, but it was defeated in favour of a more comprehensive review of social media policy.

Now a report will go before a full council meeting on Tuesday recommending that text-based social media can be used at meetings by members of the press, public and non-committee members.

Cllr Arfon Jones, who has been campaigning for the use of social media, has welcomed the review but said he didn’t think it went far enough.

“It goes 90 per cent of the way towards where I wanted to go, but it’s disappointing that members of a committee can’t use social media,” he said.

“There are plenty of committee members who ignore the chair and hold private conversations so they need better discipline in meetings, full stop.

“It also begs the question, how has it been decided that members of the press can concentrate on the meeting and tweet yet committee members of the same intelligence can’t?”

Cllr Jones also expressed his disappointment that no provision had been made to allow live video broadcasting of meetings.

He said: “The Welsh Government has given local authorities money to spend on enhancing democracy by creating live web transmissions.

Carmarthenshire have done it so why can’t we?”

He added: “I’ll be voting in favour of it but it could’ve gone a lot further, although it’s a lot closer to where we wanted to be.”

The report states: “Many of the newer social media technologies which exist today were either not an issue when the standing order was originally introduced in 2006 or were in their infancy and it is probably timely that a review of the current standing order be undertaken now, given the increased usage of social media.

“The review of political management arrangements working group has considered the issue at its meetings, initially on February 18 and again on April 16.

“It is agreed that current rules relating to social media be relaxed in order to allow the press, public and members who have not been appointed to the body whose meeting they are attending should be allowed to use facilities such as Twitter, Facebook etc and SMS text messaging during that meeting. However, the current restrictions on photographing, videoing or sound recording should remain.”

The new standing order also states: “If any activity permitted under this standing order shall create a nuisance to others attending the meeting, standing orders 15 and 16 may be invoked and to resolve the issue.”


I very much hope that my colleagues will support this change at our Annual General Meeting next Wednesday so that the authority can move on from what has been 6 months of reputational damage arising from their intransigence and a 'luddite' reluctance to embrace modern technology.

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