A regional daily newspaper has launched a campaign urging councils to stop hiding behind “outdated” rules and allow reporters to Tweet from meetings.
The Right to Tweet campaign, set up by the Daily Post in North Wales, follows a spate of instances where local authorities have imposed Twitter bans.
While many councils do allow Tweeting to take place and some even stream meetings live online, an increasing number are opting to outlaw the practice.
Reporters at the Louth Leader and Boston Standard have both been hit with bans in the past week while the Daily Post itself was barred banned from using Twitter at meetings of Wrexham County Borough Council earlier this month.
In a blog post, Daily Post editor Alison Gow questioned why some councils are demanding reporters request to Tweet at each meeting – especially on the occasions they are then refused permission – when automatic permission exists in UK courtrooms.
In 2011, the Lord Chief Justice ruled that journalists should be allowed to update their followers from courts across England and Wales without having to seek the prior permission of the judge.
Said Alison: “I don’t know why some councils embrace opportunities for transparency and others shy away from it. The subsequent fallout is never edifying – at best, it means the kind of nonsense the Daily Post is trying to negotiate a path through.
“We’ve got a Right to Tweet campaign running now that is calling for consistency across public bodies, rather than ad hoc interpretation of constitution rules.”
Alison went on: “I don’t seek out Twitter spats but I do feel strongly that if reporters and the public can use mobile devices to transmit information from court, there is no reason why they should seek permission to do so from public meetings.
“Guidelines can be useful – maybe ‘switch off your phone’s volume’ or ‘ensure your behaviour doesn’t distract others’ – but if the Attorney General doesn’t think the decision rests with his judges, then why should it rest with committee chairmen?”
The Daily Post is not the only paper to suffer at the hands of strict Twitter rules.
Louth Town Council in Lincolnshire sparked a row last week after banning journalists from live-Tweeting public meetings, claiming reporters may make mistakes or take comments out of context.
Leaders ruled that the immediacy of such reports meant that Tweets may not be “thought through” as carefully as a full printed story.
The decision came after Louth Leader reporter Sam Kinnaird requested an amendment to the authority’s standing orders – only to be knocked back when just two members of the 16-strong council voted in his favour.
“It is something I wanted to explore as we have seen from other meetings that they do generate interest,” Sam told HTFP.
“There was a little support from councillors but in the end only two of them voted in favour of it. The concern was that things would be taken out of context, and reports wouldn’t be thought through as much as a story written afterwards would be.
“It seems very strange when you are now automatically allowed to Tweet from court, and the district council allows Tweeting from meetings. You are allowed to report anything that is said at a meeting anyway.
“Some people called it ‘censorship at source’ but they denied that was the case.”
Reporters at the Boston Standard were also banned from providing live Twitter updates at a meeting of the full Boston Borough Council last week.
The borough authority said it currently only permits people to use Twitter during cabinet meetings and that its constitution would have to be changed to allow the social media site to be used to provide live updates from other meeetings.
Standard editor Stephen Stray said: “I am saddened by the decision not to allow the use of social media to report live from the full council meeting. Given that we are permitted to tweet from cabinet meetings, there appears to be no good reason why we shouldn’t be allowed to do the same at full council.”
A spokesman for the authority told the paper that a date has yet to be set to look at changing the constitution, but that the Mayor believes the use of Twitter is a matter that should wait until that discussion.