Typing keyboard
Credit: Image byilouque on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
The right of journalists and the public to tweet, live-blog and film any local authority meeting in England has become enshrined in law.

The UK local governments secretary Eric Pickles has signed a parliamentary order which aims to bring councils "into the 21st century" and put a stop to what he called "active resistance among some councils to greater openness".

The Openness of Local Government Regulations, which only apply to England, follow several complaints from reporters, community bloggers and others who have been prohibited from using digital technology at meetings in the past. In some cases, councillors have called the police to arrest people.

One council banned filming of a planning committee meeting on "health and safety" grounds, another because of potential "reputational damage" and another because it was a breach of "agreed protocol". 

Stamford Town Council placed a ban on journalists tweeting from meetings due to the risk of them "not accurately portraying a debate" and a blogger in Huntingdonshire was removed by police for filming a meeting.

The new rules apply to all public meetings, including town and parish councils and fire and rescue authorities.

Local government secretary Eric Pickles said in a release: "Half a century ago [in a 1960 bill by the then-backbench MP], Margaret Thatcher championed a new law to allow the press to make written reports of council meetings. We have updated her analogue law for a digital age.

"Local democracy needs local journalists and bloggers to report and scrutinise the work of their council, and increasingly, people read their news via digital media. The new ‘right to report’ goes hand in hand with our work to stop unfair state competition from municipal newspapers - together defending the independent free press.

"There is now no excuse for any council not to allow these new rights. Parliament has changed the law, to allow a robust and healthy local democracy. This will change the way people see local government, and allow them to view close up the good work that councillors do."

The department for communities and local government had issued guidance early in 2013, encouraging councils to allow further coverage of their meetings - including the filming of proceedings.

However, a review later that year found many councils were not complying. The new regulations were included as part of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill last autumn.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).