Thursday, 11 March 2010
Bloggers excluded from council's Twitter accreditation
Council's decision to provide Twitter accreditation to professional journalists is accused of removing bloggers from the democratic process
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.
Robert Landon, the council's head of democratic services, said they had received requests from local media and had "authorised" three titles to tweet from meetings: "The council allows the use of 'twitter' during council meetings by duly accredited representatives of the press as part of its commitment to increasing involvement in the democratic process."
But the decision has angered local bloggers who want to add their voices to the coverage of local decision-makers.
One blogger, the self-styled "Guido Fawkes of Tameside", Liam Billington fell foul of the ruling when he attempted to use his iPhone from the public gallery and was ordered to leave the building.
It's fair to say the former member of the Conservative party has been a long-term thorn in the side of the council, but he feels his often light-hearted opinion pieces have a role in informing people via his blog Tameside Eye.
"OK, I am not 'on message' because I am not going to be told by a council officer what I can or can not write.
"There are some things which go on in meetings which don't get reported, there's some humourous things which happen and councillors do make mistakes.
"With the election coming up, people are becoming a lot more interested in local democracy and I think everyone should be given a fair opportunity to tweet through council meetings – it doesn't disturb the meeting at all."
Tameside isn't the first council to attempt to restrict Twitter use, in fact the Guardian's John Baron was prevented from tweeting @GdnLeeds when Leeds city council stopped people from using mobile devices this month.
However, requiring accreditation and applying different rules for the public and press is a new aspect to the accessibility debate.
Another local blogger, Nigel Barlow, who has tweeted from nearby Manchester city council @Inside theM60, described the move as "a dangerous precedent".
"It seems the council is hiding behind an act drawn up well before the age of social media to prevent the ordinary citizen journalist from covering a council meeting.
"My other big concern is that it is only very recently that MEN (Manchester Evening News) has decided to cover council meetings and, if they suddenly decide to cut back again on local council reporting, how does Tameside council decide exactly who is accredited.
"It is important that the ordinary citizen is given the choice of understanding what what is being decided in these meetings and bloggers and hyperlocal journalists can give a differing insight into the decision making process."
Billington is now considering his next move, which could see him attempting to report from the meeting using different platforms or devices as a way of getting around the ruling.
With bloggers becoming more active, confident and tech savvy, such blunt attempts by local authorities to silence look increasingly impotent – what do you think on on this issue? The Guardian