A challenge to Open Democracy – Bloggers excluded from council’s Twitter accreditation

I have read with great interest an article and supporting posts about Tameside Councils decision to accredit professional journalists and allow them to tweet live within council meetings and in effect ban anyone else from doing so.

A council in the north of England has taken the unusual step of accrediting professional journalists to report from meetings using Twitter in a move that in effect bans local bloggers.

The decision by Tameside council means that local bloggers, members of the public and even their own councillors are not permitted to tweet because they are not members of the press as defined in law by the Local Government Act of 1972.

via Bloggers excluded from council’s Twitter accreditation | Media | guardian.co.uk.

Now I’m guessing here that Tameside Council may have taken a different view if they were webcasting their meetings live like Devon County Council and many others do.

The use of the Local Government Act 1972 to in effect reduce the ability of even the councillors themselves from tweeting from within the meeting seems a step too far. Details of the Councils Official response can be found here.

Any council who is currently webcasting their meetings would find the same decision impossible to impose, unless they stop webcasting their meetings to the public. The challenge of course in this scenario is that anyone from around the world can effectively tweet live whilst watching the “live” webcast or even comment after the event via the archive.

So I guess my question related to this is:  Are we really using the act to manage the supposed abuse of twitter? Or are Tameside Council trying to solve another problem relating to individuals and what they say?

Either way, I am concerned about the longer term implications should other councils see this as a way to “control the message” and restrict the opportunities to engage and participate in local politics and decision-making.

This feels like we are going back to a “behind closed doors” approach which is in my opinion “anti social” and not very “democratic”.

The challenge here is that we need to support councils and more importantly reach the staff working inside to better understand the potential of these tools to increase participation and involvement in local politics and decision making.   We also need to have an effective discussion in the wider public sector about the role social tools can play in shaping public services.