Friday, 10 September 2010

Conservative Councillors Get it Wrong

Britghton and Hove City Council, one of a handful of British local authorities to provide webcasts of its meetings, is set to have its decision to suspend the improbably-named Green Party councillor Jason Kitcat for posting excerpts from them on his YouTube channel appealed before a tribunal.  The council has elected to hire outside counsel and fight the case at substantial cost to taxpayers.
Disappointingly, the complaint which kicked off the whole sorry process originates with a Conservative councillor – one Ted Kemble – who averred that in posting the clips Councillor Kitcat

(i) had failed to treat his fellow councillors with respect, by posting the clips without the prior knowledge or express permission of Councillor Theobald or Councillor Mears; and

(ii) had abused council facilities by infringing the copyright in the webcast images

This attempt to assert councillors' proprietary ownership of what amounts in effect to the public discourse is ill at ease with the Conservative Party's transparency agenda, as are the conclusions of the investigating Standards Manager:

I consider that Cllr Kitcat did use the council’s IT facilities improperly for political purposes. Most of the clips are about communal bins, a politically contentious issue at the time. The clips are about Cllr Kitcat holding the administration politically to account for the way the bins were introduced, and were intended to highlight what the he believed were the administration’s deficiencies in that regard, based on feedback from certain residents.

Holding council administrations to account politically on behalf of residents, one would have thought, is the essential purpose of elected councillors.

Assuming Councillor Kitcat's appeal is succesful, the whole disagreeable episode will hopefully serve to hasten the destruction of the absurd Standards regime.  More than that, however, it should be triggering demands for an absolute right of the public to record council meetings by any means they deem fit, and for such things as official webcasts to be made available for conversion, sharing and whatever else through Open Government Licenses.

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