Monday, 18 March 2019

Madeleine McCann is sixteen.

I just finished the Netflix docu on Madeleine McCann. First thing; it's a must see. I'm not buying into that it's a pointless exploitative exercise in tragedy entertainment bringing nothing new to the table; just some of several TV critics' opinions.

The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann is eight hours long for a good reason; there's a lot hanging on tiny details which as you grasp the significance of could change your point of view entirely. It's a brave narrative that takes you down a familiar story and then just before you turn it off thinking you've heard it all before, it slaps you with your predictable conclusion, illustrating how difficult honest detective work must be. A fact is not a fact until other facts corroborate it, but those fact-facts have to be ruthlessly examined too. 

A very troubling revelation is the number of similar crimes that occurred in the Algarve before the McCanns went there and the obvious reasons why tourists never knew of these but plenty of officials did. We too took our children to the Algarve several years in a row back then and did the same things for the same reasons the McCanns and the Tapas 7 did. In my experience parents who struggle to conceive as the McCanns did with five years of IVF for Madeleine are usually not cavalier with the Calpol or casual about security, they're generally the opposite. The issue of sedatives is illustrative. There's no evidence for it. All the critiques of the McCann's parenting choices comes with hindsight. I know the Ocean Club and all the family videos and contemporaneous photographs submitted in case there was a hidden clue are indistinguishable from my own. While the quantity of familiar news footage used is substantial, it is not repeated over and over as tragedy porn but that repetition serves to contradict something just laid before you. The lingering beauty shots of a crime scene says more to me that in this paradise of the 'beach of light' lies a lot of unsavoury business hiding in plain sight. 

It gradually dawns on you that the tragedy of this story is not only did the McCanns lose their child, we have lost crucial time that could have saved many other children as well as Madeleine.

Overall the series is very sympathetic to the McCanns so it's entirely to their credit they refused to take part. They had no idea how it would turn out and so, on the balance of probabilities, - something which has determined everything in this case -  they wisely chose not to be interviewed. However this is presented as proof by the critics that this film is not worth your attention. Umm, a perfect illustration of the issues that have dogged this case. 

The McCanns outward 'presentation' of themselves - and the other arguidos - to the media is forensically examined as this evidently has influenced people in the media and so public opinion. What's tragic for Madeleine is how that public opinion shaped the course of the investigation. Many people evidently think Kate McCann is a cold-hearted bitch and Gerry is controlling gas-lighting monster, therefore they're hiding something. I think now what they're hiding is an appalling fear of losing a normal life for their family and their privacy and it's entirely plausible that the only person they need to present their feelings to is Madeline and her abductors. Somebody else knows what happened to Madeleine after that night and they are probably watching. The justice system of two developed nations is as certain as it can be that it isn't anyone close to Madeline. 

Though I don't remember it being in the film, much is made elsewhere that Kate McCann refused to answer the questions put to her when she was interviewed as an arguido though the hostility of the police is dramatised. If you read those questions now, one gets the impression the police had already made up their minds it was the parents' fault. The police were not interested in finding Madeleine, they were looking for a murderer, without a body to prove there had been one.  

There's a lot of new stuff and since it has been almost 12 years we might wonder what the McCanns have been doing lately? Spoiler alert: it's a shocking revelation that they were being exploited by several con men which has only hampered things more, but those crimes eventually persuaded Scotland Yard to pick up the ball that Portugal dropped. 

A crucial point that many of the critics and picture editors of their outlets have missed is that Madeleine is now 16 years old, yet pictures of her as a three year old are constantly being republished. An expertly created 'aged' photo of her likely appearance now should be the one that illustrates her story now; if the media are to defend their interest and serve the cause of finding Madeleine. 

I surmise on my own that Gerry and Kate must have had to play hardball to coerce cooperation from the government and media having been let down so many times before. However if they've used any advantage they have to do this; wouldn't you? Hardball is not the easy option either, it takes energy and stamina. They have to walk on an impossible precipice to keep engagement with the media so that attention remains on finding Madeleine without becoming professional victims, on speed-dial for journalists for a quote - ideally emotive - after every development or in every instance of a similar tragedy. 

The fourth estate comes off very badly how it hampered the investigation. I know the mentality of the press pack far too well and make no apologies for it; the plough has to go deep to break the soil.  The seismic shift happening with social media at this time undoubtedly whipped the authorities in Portugal to chase their own tails. There's only some redemption that a few journalists have exposed the scale of the problem of human trafficking in Portugal, massive because of its geography; a poor country between the first and third world. Politics and diplomatic relations played a part too, negatively at first. 

We've heard a lot about international paedophile rings operating in the upper echelons of power (Savile, Wonderland, et al) and it's very troubling that Portugal was once Europe's Cambodia for paedophile sex tourists so reputation management was the government's priority. Who were the rich Americans that used to fly there when Portugal was under the Salazar dictatorship? 

Were I concerned by it I might criticise the approach of the documentary filming but it reflects well the truth that the bright playful outdoor sunshine in the Algarve is often contrasted with the cool, even cold, dark interiors of Algarve houses. Were touches like the military jacket of the investigative journalist accidental or by design?  

What parents of missing children talk about in the film is having closure and anyone who's suffered an unexplained loss of a loved one knows that until you close the open wound in your heart with an explanation, it will cause constant unbearable pain. I've swung from ambivalent to wholly supportive to the McCanns, for any focus on finding Madeleine will bring about the protection and rescue of many children now and in the future, and closure for many parents too. Do not let any disdain for the McCanns for any reason prevent that.

It is the exposure of this trade and the capture of its suppliers and customers that offers the best chance of finding Madeleine. The film makes a good case that Madeleine was stolen to order. There is hope; many abducted children held captive for decades have been since found. Therefore please watch the films and then decide are we doing enough?

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Year end accounts

I am doing my end of tax year accounts which is an opportunity for reflecting on the new gig economy in what are the film industry's boom-times.

Of 177 days in 2017-18 I worked on:

6 Features

3 TV dramas

1 Documentary

2 Shorts

1 Pop video

3 Online Ads

This represents 14 different employers so I had 14 sets of start forms to complete, 14 sets of wage slips/invoices, p60's and p45s to keep on file and at least half of these jobs needed chasing to settle the invoices. Some got as far as a Letter Before Action. Despite the HRMC already reminding me to file my Self-Assessment, the employer's deadline for sending me p60's is 31 May. By then I could be stuck on location with all my papers at home.

For only 54 of those days did I sleep at home, let alone have a family meal or talk to anyone at breakfast. Most of my fuel and Costa receipts are before 07:00 and after 22:30. The 'typical' job with 47 weeks of 40 hours is 1880 hours a year. I worked, or rather got paid, for 2133 hours or 12.12 per day, reflecting that the basic movie day is always 12 hours. However not every production pays overtime but they still expect you to work. The work done pre-call and after wrap and a couple of hours on those one-day weekends sorting your petty cash never gets counted.

On just over half my jobs on the features and TV dramas I had employee status. However I find most producers want you to invoice as a self-employed person (independent contractor in the USA). As a self-employed person you get paid the same as an employee but lose all the benefits such as pension, maternity, unemployment, sickness, statutory holiday pay and various tax credits. You also then shoulder public liability and the overhead of insurance.  It's a commonly held fallacy that an employee can't take the deductions that the self-employed do, as if that's fair compensation.

I've noticed too that the accounting of holiday pay in my payslips is really opaque; some report it as separate line and some don't. I am noticing a trend that when a producer offers me a job and when the production office gets around to sending me start forms - often after I’ve started actual work - the rate we verbally agreed is inclusive any holiday pay, therefore conceding a substantial discount on what I expected to earn because, unlike a 'real' job, the holidays not taken are not put on my final payslip. Industry organisations like BECTU have agreed that statutory holiday should be compensated as an additional 12% of earnings because it is impractical for film crews to take paid leave. This issue can get cloudy because paid holiday is a statutory benefit for employees but not for the self-employed. When a job is in the real world is advertised in the Job Centre, the hourly rate or salary advertised is exclusive because it is paid time off.

But by doing this producers are effectively saying that for every £1 of the day rate we agreed, the rate is actually 89 pence because 11 pence makes up the additional 12% holiday pay instead of BECTU's position that for every £1 in pay there will be an additional 12 pence in holiday pay. When you calculate overtime this can make a big differenc that increases exponentially with time and half, double time and so on. A person making £100 per day for an 11 hour day / 55 hour week with holiday pay inclusive is only making pennies over NMW and losing £53 per week against holiday in addition.
I estimate that my self-employed rate would need to be 50% higher to compensate for lost employee benefits but parts of this business is in a race to the bottom. Many roles in my industry cannot be self-employed and producers have to pay employers' National Insurance stamps on top but where jobs are under six days, they can avoid it. Now working out what I might need to pay the DWP in top-up National Insurance is a cold towel job.

I took 21 days holiday when I had a window between ending one job and starting another. The job I came back to was the second-lowest hourly paid that year but it was five weeks work close to home. This was the only time I knew I had a job more than a week before it started. The timing didn't suit my partner's job or my kids' school so I took my holiday alone. These unsocial hours and their unpredictability, plus lots of travel to distant locations, plays havoc with keeping doctor and dentist appointments and getting a haircut, let alone attending parent-teacher meetings, school performances, family weddings, funerals and any semblance of normal life.

The plus side is that in a small way you occasionally make something lasting that you can be proud of, even if it was hell at the time. But more people have asked to hear my stories of working for legendary low-budget producers like Roger Corman than probably even saw an award-winning shoestring drama about Salvadorian refugees. That one I literally gave blood for when I crashed my car after blanking out from several 90+ hour weeks.

My main beef is the bureaucrats seem to have no idea that work like this exists, or otherwise their rules are meant to disenfranchise you. When you fill out forms for a disabled child's benefits they ask what is your annual income and how many hours a week you work, as if you will know a year in advance. The nightmare that is Working Family Tax Credit (which I would qualify for) and the holes that getting your estimates wrong can put you into will have to be another essay.

The biggest entertainment payroll company Sargent-Disc has alternately grim and hopeful data about the sustainability of my employment. The average wages in the entertainment industry per-hour are no better than national averages and entry-level are shockingly explotative, as I found for myself working on billion-pound cooking competition franchise at a rate that worked out less than National Minimum Wage. 
One runner reported to Televisual: “There are still companies offering work below NMW. Last year, I was offered £425 a week for a rotating six day week on location for a prime time BBC1 programme, which is well known for doing 16-17 hour days. It is getting beyond tedious going to interviews and finding this is what a company thinks is acceptable.”

The construction and props departments appear to offer good long term employment prospects for me. "Along with the transport department, they have the highest proportion of over 60s with a healthy 8% of the construction department in that age group." Overall though the pressure on wages is downwards. The situation at entry-level is dire and dominated by the Nathan Barleys. An industry report says: "Competition to break into the industry is so high that employers can offer low salaries knowing that a young person will take it. The only runners who can afford to progress are the ones bankrolled by wealthy parents. These subsidised runners are our future producers. In 10 years time posh kids will rule TV and output will be one dimensional.”

When I first started in this business, the older workers, all members of the late ACTT and NATKE, would annoy me with their closed shop, their clock-watching and threats of grievances and their long lunches in the pub. Now I am one of them I see their point!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

There was this fella called John...

Over ten years ago while I was looking for something else on microfilm in the British Library I came across a newspaper story of a Halesworth man who won a TV talent show. 

Nobody had heard of him and there wasn't anything in the local museum so I tried to research what happened to him. I found that after releasing a couple of singles, one performed with what became 10 cc, he disappeared into obscurity. I contacted his former manager Harvey Lisberg who didn't remember him. I wrote to him through the Peforming Rights Society to ask about his connection to Halesworth but they said he had asked them not to give me his address. They confirmed he was alive but it seemed there was a tragic story why he didn't keep banging on the door of success.

Then recently I came across in our local museum the actual photo used in the newspaper story because the negatives of a local photographer that were donated to the museum have now been digitised. That's two happenstances upon him a decade apart.

According to the Halesworth Times singer Paul Jones (born Reginald John Davidge) was working as a chef in the town when he won the final of the Granada TV talent show First Timers in October 1967 and the prize of a management contract with Harvey Lisberg, the manager of Herman's Hermits, plus a contract to play in Blackpool. His prize was presented to him by Englebert Humperdink who Lisberg also managed. Another winner of this talent show was Amen Corner.

Apparently Davidge sometimes used the name Reg Gray on the stand-up comedy circuit but he used the name John Paul Joans (a nod to the American patriot perhaps?) when he released a 1970 Christmas single called The Man from Nazareth co-written with Kevin Godley and Lol Creme who were also managed by Lisberg. In the UK he used the spelling JOANS to distinguish himself from the bass guitarist of Led Zeppelin - born John Baldwin - who had a prior claim but it seems this appropriation was Lisberg's ideaThe single reached #25 in the UK but in the USA the single was released as J. P. Jones until Led Zeppelin's manager Peter Grant stepped in and the subsequent US pressings were credited to a mononymous 'John'. However because the names sounded the same on the radio; the outlandish things that Joans said in interviews were attributed to JONES and that didn't endear him to influential people in the music industry.

Davidge's next record The Miners' Song was released in 1972 in support of striking miners under the name John and City Lights but it apparently fell afoul of the BBC for being "political" along with Paul McCartney and Wings' Give Ireland Back to the Irish. This was years before Band Aid. The seven-week miners strike was the first since 1926 and at the time miners were amongst the lowest paid workers in Britain. Power cuts, a state of emergency and a three-day week was imposed by the Heath government. Davidge and Lisberg must have parted ways by now because in a striking act of solidarity or a clever publicity stunt; the BBC in turn was banned from playing the record by his manager and owner of the master Maureen Prest.

Between these releases, Davidge also made a memorable appearance in a 1971 Granada TV documentary called There Was This Fella... about club comedians in which he is introduced by Bernard Manning simply as 'John'. His style of comedy is very different to his contemporaries and Manning warns the audience "he's a bit way out..." John's intensity comes across like an early prototype of the politically-aware comedians yet to come from the Comic Strip.

It's claimed that Bob Monkhouse once described Davidge as Britain's answer to Lenny Bruce. I read on web forum posts now deleted that he was the victim of a car accident and is now no longer able to work. Tim Prest, who is presumably connected to Maureen Prest, has posted: "he went to Ireland to help the peace movement, Betty Williams had asked for artists to perform, he had a strong social conscience wanting to help, he was knocked down by a hit and run driver, he almost lost his life, he sustained many many injuries, that was the end of his career."

Nobody seems to have heard from Davidge since then and so he has become a footnote to pop history. Davidge is briefly seen performing Man from Nazareth at the 18:07 mark in a disparaging cheeseboard of popular music Rock Bottom presented by John Peel broadcast in 1992. Recycling clips of Top of the Pops is a cheap way to fill BBC schedules and it's highly subjective in its choices. Shameless sentimentalism such as Grandma by St Winifred's School Choir can take the knocks having spent two weeks at number one and 11 weeks in the charts but Man from Nazareth seems an odd inclusion as the only song with a serious social or religious theme. I hope the royalties still find their way to him.

He sounds like an interesting fellow and I think he deserves more recognition than he got. Last week I heard that an exhibition to raise awareness of overlooked Sixties and Seventies British Civil Rights campaigns is being prepared. I have now passed this along.

Saturday, 15 February 2014


Poster by Richard Hollis


In July 1968 the National Conference on Art and Design Education [sponsored by the Movement for re-thinking Art and Design Education {MORADE}] asked itself 3 key questions:

1. Why art & design education?
2. What is a school of art?
3. How should art schools be organized?

The Conference soon found itself to be in agreement that the purpose of art & design education is to develop critical awareness,  to allow potentially creative people to develop their aptitudes, to encourage questioning and to stimulate discovery, and to promote creative behaviour. 

It was also generally agreed that this purpose could not be served except under conditions of freedom far greater than obtain at the present – freedom from external control by bodies unsympathetic to and uncomprehending of its purpose, freedom to select students without constraint by irrelevant criteria, freedom to develop courses without regard to inappropriately academic national standards, and freedom from inhibition by too rigid structures of internal control. 

The conference recognized the urgent need for reform by the immediate removal of some of  the impediments but it also recognized that reform in the longer  term would need much further study and might well involve the reorientation of art teaching throughout the educational system as a whole. Voices were not lacking to remind the Conference of the equal need for realism.

A recurrent theme was the relationship of ‘Art’ to ‘Society’ and,  therefore the role or roles – actual and potential – of the artist and designer today. A wide diversity of views was expressed from which it emerged that the need for solidarity in confronting a world unaware of art’s value or purposes outweighed the need that might arise for distinguishing differences of function and approach between say ‘artist’ and ‘designer’.

It was made apparent to the Conference, by the remarks of Sir John Summerson, that even within bodies nominally constituted to represent their views there is an alarming and – in the present situation – possibly crucial lack of fundamental understanding. It was agreed by the Conference, therefore, that a primary function of art and design education is the extension of understanding and that a world which does not know ‘what art is about’ will neither be able to use it rightly nor concede to it a proper status. In this ‘chicken & egg’ situation the need for internal reform is paramount and urgent.

Geoffrey Bocking.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Some thoughts on recording town council meetings

The Accountability Act will soon enable the public and news media to make recordings and take photographs in council meetings. The new guidance explicitly states that councils in England should allow the public to film, blog and tweet council meetings.

I am not a lawyer but as a photojournalist I try to keep abreast of copyright and privacy issues. As a town councillor I am interested in making local government as open and transparent as possible.

Unless mentioned otherwise, for the purposes of this paper, recordings mean both sound recording and the taking of photographs, both separately and synchronised and both still and moving pictures.

I consider there are four areas of this topic where different laws or practice might apply:

  • The recording of meetings by the council itself.
  • The recording of meetings by the public.
  • The publication of council recordings.
  • The publication of public recordings.
I consider councils will need to prioritise forming a policy around the public recording of meetings as these recordings are more difficult to enforce any rights or protections due by them and there is less case law and practise to refer to.
There are many advantages for a council in allowing and making recordings. Firstly, access by media is generally beneficial; it disseminates knowledge of the work of the council and promotes engagement with the public. Recordings remove any doubt in the minutes taken and it also discourages any physical or verbal intimidation by members of the public or town councillors in the proceedings. It could enable councillors to give a verbal report if they haven’t prepared a written one.

Since the public will not be restricted from recording meetings, if the public regularly exercise that right, it may put an onus on a council to make and keep their own recordings as an official record in case there is any dispute over the content of recordings. Recording sound from the public area is unlikely to be under optimum conditions. It has been my experience that journalists have sometimes sworn they have something on tape and have written stories with supposedly verbatim quotes but when the published story is checked, no such quotes can be found.

The council making its own recordings presents a number of technical challenges as many meeting are held in multi-purpose rooms. If a recording is made it will have to be stored and must be accessible under FOI. It would be an ideal situation if the council had the means to offer recordings as an online archive and also stream the audio or video of meetings live but I doubt many can afford to.

The concerns that subjects of recordings naturally  often have is that the recording will be used out of context or in a way which will subject them to unwanted forms of public attention. The potential for that exists for as long as the recording is extant. The editing of video into a ‘mash-up’ to literally put words in people’s mouths as a form of satire or the recording say of an inadvertent ‘clothing malfunction’ could subject them to ridicule. There are several defences to exploiting recordings in a manner that could embarrass the subject but are in the public interest or protected as free speech. However for the councillor standing to speak, that is one of the burdens of civic service.

The council cannot restrict the recording of proceedings for a legitimate purpose but it may be able to restrict – as condition of giving access – the dissemination of recordings for other than for a legitimate purpose. It would be worth getting more guidance on this area. 

It’s important to bear in mind there is a difference between recording and to publishing. In general, to ensure an open and transparent government, recording of council meetings should not be restricted but publication of such recordings should only be for that purpose too and so may be restricted to that. The question arises how can that be imposed and enforced?

It could be argued that the council retains a right to set reasonable conditions on the publication of recordings, so long as the citizen’s right to record and observe meetings are not unduly or unreasonably hampered. There are potentially several ways to enforce those rights.

If the publication of the recording has no legitimate purpose connected with the activity of the council, it may be possible to impose that as a condition of  access. Reporting on the delivery of government whether specifically or generally by professional news media would be generally held to be legitimate. The use of recordings of the council as the basis for an advertisement of an unrelated product could be a misappropriation and so publication would require the permission of the council, which in turn might require the permission of every subject with regards to their ‘image rights’.

At present in English law there is no basic right to privacy. That means that you can freely record anyone, even children, in a public place, so long as the act of recording does not cause alarm or distress or another kind of nuisance. There are some challenges to concept of unfettered recording in public under Human Rights legislation but these have not been fully tested in the courts yet.

It is perfectly legitimate to take a photograph any person in a public place without their permission but if you use that photograph to infer any kind or endorsement or make direct reference to a recognisable person saying or implying something untrue, you could violate their rights. 

There is the case of an anonymous man photographed crossing Wall Street. The photograph was cropped to show him prominently and used by the New York Times for an article discussing “The Black Middle Class: Making It.” The man in the photo Clarence Arrington was recognised by his friends. He successfully sued because although he was African-American, he did not agree being called “middle class”. However in the US the publisher was safe under First Amendment rights but the photographer was found liable to Mr Arrington because the photographer had sold the image for commercial gain.

There can be reasonable restrictions put on recording activity. Bringing equipment like lights and tripods into the council chamber could be a safety hazard and noisy camera shutters or beeping electronics and flash photography are distracting, so that can be barred from the chamber. But if the equipment and the operators are professionals, accredited media should be given reasonable accommodation in recording public sessions of council meetings. The question of accreditation I will come to later.

There are various ‘duties of care’ applied to photographing vulnerable people and children in care but these are often misinterpreted and applied  globally to the taking of any photographs. Nowadays many parents are prevented from photographing the school play. Actually the duty of care is limited to very few types of person and meant to apply to the identification of people in published photographs. This is very hard for schools to manage, especially with social media, so a culture of banning all forms of photography in schools has arisen.

I recall a local case where a child under a care order and living with foster parents was photographed amongst many other children at a birthday party and a photo was put on social media but the names of the respective children were not published. However the children in the photo began ‘tagging’ the photo with their friends’ names. Thus the identity of the child was searchable to anyone with a computer, including the child’s estranged parents.

Therefore the council may have a duty of care to restrict photography to solely the council business and under data protection requirements, the publication and identification of members of the public recorded solely in observance of the council meeting should be restricted. In the past councils have cited 'data protection' as a reason to bar recording at meetings but it's clear that Mr. Pickles' advice overrides this.

A security system may be already recording members of the public but access to and publication of those recordings is covered by data protection. The distinction is needed to be understood; “data protection” does not generally restrict the making of recordings for a legitimate purpose, it prevents the dissemination of personal data except for a legitimate purpose. The council will be responsible for its own recordings but since it must permit the recording of meetings, it cannot now be held liable for the actions of others and the same burden of liability falls on all those making recordings.

In general the right to take photographs on private land upon which permission has been obtained is similarly unrestricted. However, landowners are permitted to impose any conditions they wish upon entry to a property, such as forbidding or restricting photography. The question of what is a public space is complex but I would think that a council chamber to which the public are admitted is for the time in effect a public space and the presence of the public is so permitted and so such restrictions on the basis of landowner’s or occupiers permission may be found unenforceable if tested.

There is no legal definition or accreditation for a journalist in the UK. A ‘citizen journalist’ has the same rights and responsibilities as a BBC reporter and has the same privileges of access to government and vice-versa. The UK Press Card system is sometimes used as an accreditation to give priority to working media by police forces. The cards are recognised by APCO but in law give no authority or privileges, but are accepted as a means of identification by UK Police forces who may, at their discretion, give cardholders access beyond that afforded to the general public.  Possession of a press card is not an accreditation but it does give some implied warranty that the person holding it understands the duties of a journalist to the council and the public.

APCO recognised Press Cards are issued by:

Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematographic and Theatre Union (BECTU)
British Press Photographers' Association (BPPA)
Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIOJ)
Foreign Press Association (FPA)
ITV Network Ltd
International Visual Communication Association (IVCA)
National Association of Press Agencies (NAPA)
National Union of Journalists (NUJ)
Newspaper Publishers Association (NPA)
The Newspaper Society (NS)
Professional Publishers Association (PPA)
Sky News

I consider councils should permit the unrestricted recording of open council meetings by accredited journalists who are employed by established news organizations and are attending the council meeting for the express purpose of gathering news and information to provide editorial coverage of the council. It would be reasonable to ask journalists to submit their media credentials to the clerk for notation in the record of attendance and to 'fast track' the provision of guidance on the recording of meetings. “Citizen Journalists” or those without a press card can be similarly credentialled on signing acceptance of the council’s media policy of no commercial exploitation of the recording except for legitimate editorial coverage.

This would not restrict the right of the public to make recordings but with that agreement in place, the council would be more able and willing to accommodate the ‘citizen journalist’ better in order to make more useful recordings.

With specific reference to the right of the public to ask questions of the council; it could be impractical from the council’s purpose to prevent or restrict audio recording in this instance and that recording is necessary as a public record. The recording devices under the control of the council and accredited media should not be restricted from recording those members of the public asking questions.

Eric Pickles’ guidance says “the council should consider adopting a policy on the filming of members of the public speaking at a meeting, such as allowing those who actively object to being filmed not to be filmed, without undermining the broader transparency of the meeting…”

In most instances of interaction with the council, a person’s name becomes a public record such as on an application to the council for funding, a comment on a planning or licensing application, which must record the applicant’s name and address. At public meetings the clerk notes the name of the person asking questions and their name has to be given to ensure they are a proper constituent of the council.

It seems reasonable then that a person asking a question of the council does not have the absolute right of anonymity. The recording of a reply given by councillors to a question would lose some of its context if the question was not recorded. Pickles does not insist that people have the right not to be recorded but that it should be considered. In which case I would suggest a compromise is a policy that only the council business can be recorded and a person asking a question does not need to be filmed but the audio can be recorded. If a person insists that there is no audio record of their question, then they can put the question in writing to the clerk who will read it out, acknowledging that the person is a proper constituent.

Draft Recording Policy

The recording of council meetings by members of the public and accredited media is permitted and otherwise unrestricted on the following conditions. 

The presence of persons in the chamber during the council meeting is deemed to be their permission to be recorded in any medium.

Press representatives, members of the public or individual officers or elected members making their own full or partial recordings of meetings must respect the law, including Human Rights and Data Protection legislation and intellectual property rights where they apply. They will be responsible for any allegations of breaches of the law which may results from their use of recorded material and are admitted to the Council Chamber on the basis that they accept this responsibility.

Press representatives, members of the public and elected councillors are permitted to make their own recordings of meetings from the public area, subject to the provisions of this policy but they must notify the Chair of their intent to record prior to the start of the meeting.

Recording equipment or the process of recording cannot interfere with the proceedings of the meeting, nor interfere with public observance or impinge on public safety and all public and media recording must take place from the public area. The use of tripods or lights on stands or placing equipment on seats or in a gangway is not permitted unless previously agreed with the council’s chairperson. All recording equipment must operate silently and no flash photography or any form of extra illumination is permitted. No microphones, cables, booms or stands, recording or transmitting devices may be placed around the council table and seating area or used outside the public area without the expressed permission of the council.

Recording by members of the public is only permitted for the legitimate purposes of recording for reference or reporting on the business of the council or other uses reasonably in the public interest. Recording may only take place after the opening of the meeting by the chair and must stop at the closing of the meeting (gavel to gavel).

The copyright in any recording of the council business remains with the council, though the media it is recorded on can belong to another entity. Any rights associated with a recording or parts therein of the councils business cannot be sold or let or available for hire nor commercially exploited without permission of the subjects. The publication of video or audio recording on commercial media channels such as YouTube generating advertising revenue is not permitted without the expressed agreement of the council unless it is clearly and demonstrably in the public’s interest; such as offering a verbatim, unedited account of the proceedings to enable public participation in local governance. The editing or mixing of the recording with other media for any purpose unrelated to editorial reportage of the council is not permitted.

The subjects recorded in the council chamber must be pertinent to the council’s business. For common courtesy and for data protection, the members of the public attending in observance should not be recorded except when interacting with the council, such as when asking questions or when otherwise relevant to the council in matters of safety or security. Those making recordings are asked to show courtesy to other members of the public and refrain from directly filming members of the public who are asking questions of the council or submitting comment (such as licensing or planning) although audio recording is permissible.

To ensure compliance with data protection, the recording of subjects not pertaining to the meeting or council business is not permitted in the council chamber. The copying of documents except those in the public folder (unless those are marked confidential) is not permitted. The copying of private notes taken by councillors – with the use of a telephoto lens for instance – is not permitted. However, notes taken by councillors can be subject to FOI request.

The council may operate its own recording devices and make recordings either automatically or by persons authorised by the council. These recordings will be logged in the register of council property and marked with the date of recording and accessible by FOI request and kept in a reasonably accessible format and stored for as long as regulation requires.

The council is not obliged in any duty to make its own recordings but if a recording is taken by the council it must be noted on the minutes. If the council’s recording of a public meeting has been started it cannot deliberately stop recording a because a matter of confidentiality arises. Except for equipment malfunction, if a recording of a meeting has begun, the recording must capture the entire meeting to its close. If confidential matters need to be discussed “off the record” then the chair must close the meeting and exclude the public and hold the meeting in-camera, according to the rules of in-camera meetings in its standing orders. In the instance that confidential matters arise inadvertently, the recording must be treated as confidential and may be redacted before release under FOI.
At the start of the meeting, the Chair must remind all present that a recording is being made.

Recordings will not be made by the council, or by any elected member or any other individual for any part of the meeting where the public and press are excluded.

A press representative or member of the public or councillor making a personal recording must comply with any request to cease recording, as instructed by the Chair. Any member of the public recording the meeting must do so from the public area.

The Chairman of the meeting has the absolute discretion to stop or suspend recording if, in their opinion, continuing to do so would prejudice proceedings.

This could include but not be restricted to:

  • Public disturbance or other suspension of the meeting. 
  • Exclusion of the public and press being moved and supported. 
  • Recording by an individual or individuals considered to be disrupting the proceedings of the meeting. 
  • Recording is preventing any other individuals from viewing and listening to the meeting. 
Access to the council’s recordings can be restricted by the Monitoring Officer if they consider that it is necessary to do so because all or part of the content of the recording is likely to be in breach of any statutory provision such as Data Protection and Human Rights legislation, or libel and defamation laws.

The Council takes no responsibility for any recording made by a third party or its subsequent use. Any third party making a recording of a meeting shall be taken to have indemnified the Council against all actions, proceedings, costs, claims, demands, liabilities, losses and expenses whatsoever relating to the making of that recording.