Anyway to cut a long story short Councillors from the Labour Party voted against my ruling to allow both accredited and citizen journalists to film the meeting. Councillors of the Conservative Party abstained. The result was that a BBC journalist, a Thanet Gazette reporter and a journalist from Thanet Watch had to turn off their cameras. Members of the public who were at the meeting were disgusted by the decision of the assembled councillors.
In my opinion the decision to stop journalists from filming was morally corrupt so I decided not to chair the meeting as a protest.
I have now written to Eric Pickles MP Local Government Secretary advising him of what happened and asking him to intervene in the increasing secretive, anti-democratic and opaque management of Thanet Council by senior councillors.
We live in a modern world with new affordable technologies which allow real-time scrutiny and accountability of politicians. It is wrong to prevent local citizens from using this technology to hold their elected representatives to account.
Such and approach to politics is not only morally and democratically corrupt, but makes it much easier for actual corruption and mismanagement to take-hold and thrive.
Here is my letter to Eric Pickles.
Dear Mr Pickles
I am writing to you in my capacity as a Thanet District Councillor to express my concern about my Council's unreasonable resistance to allowing the filming of its meetings by accredited members of the media and citizen journalists.
At the Council meeting on 18th April a local journalist was expelled from the meeting for trying to film the appalling way in which councillors behaved when dealing with a major petition of over a 1,000 signatures. Instead of dealing with the petition, councillors shouted and traded personal insults at each other almost resulting in a fist fight between 2 members. The journalist and I felt that the behaviour was so bad that it must be recorded and published. The journalist was expelled from the meeting. And for taking photographs of a meeting of a Council of which I am member, I too was expelled. I have since published some of these pictures on my blog site and have been advised that elected Members have complained to the Council's Standards Board about that fact that I photographed and published evidence of their unacceptable behaviour.
Last night at a meeting of Thanet Council's Overview and Scrutiny Panel (of which I am the chairman). I agreed to allow the meeting to be recorded by accredited journalists (including the BBC who were present) and citizen journalists. Members of the Council's ruling Labour Group challenged my decision and voted not to allow any filming at all. Sadly the Tory group abstained on this issue.
As you probably know, following the gaoling of the Council's former leader Sandy Ezeikiel for misconduct in public office, Thanet Council's reputation for probity and transparency is extremely poor and most people in the district hold the Council in low esteem.
Efforts to restore its reputation by becoming more open and transparent in the reporting of its business through the use of new media and citizen journalism are being resisted by a majority of Councillors. This cannot be right. Indeed Thanet Cabinet's forthcoming review of Probity and Reputation makes no mention whatsoever of opening up meetings to filmed by citizens journalists as a means of rehabilitating its tarnished image.
I am aware of you comments in favour of allowing the filming of Council meetings by citizen journalists. I am also aware of your colleague Bob Neale's letter to all Council Leaders and Monitoring Officers encouraging them to allow citizen journalists to record and broadcast video of Council meetings. I can advise you that this letter has never been discussed by Thanet Council or its committees and this letter has never been circulated to Members. This is totally unacceptable.
I would be very grateful if you could investigate the situation at Thanet Council and use your power and influence to persuade this old fashioned, backward looking body to allow local people to hold councillors to public account by filming and broadcasting them at work in meetings.
I am sure that the people of Thanet will welcome your intervention. But perhaps not the councillors.
I am seriously considering setting up a petition to force the Council to change its undemocratic rules in relation to filming
I look forward to hearing from you.