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Pickles unveils new ‘right to report’

The government has moved to put an end to local disputes about whether reporters can film or live-blog council meetings by introducing a general ‘right to report.’

HoldtheFrontPage has covered a series of rows in recent years in which local newspapers have been banned from tweeting or blogging at council meetings on the grounds that it constitutes “broadcasting.”

In one such incident last year, North Wales Daily Post reporter Steve Bagnall was prevented by Wrexham County Borough Council from tweeting at a meeting.

In another case, John Everly from the Rutland Mercury was twice barred from using Twitter to cover Stamford Town Council meetings.

Now communities secretary Eric Pickles has signed a Parliamentary order which he says will bring councils into the 21st century by enabling the press to film and digitally report from all meetings open to the public.

Mr Pickles sees the move as building on the 1960 private members’ bill introduced by Margaret Thatcher which first allowed for written press coverage of council meetings.

He said: ““Half a century ago, 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 Openness of Local Government Regulations, which apply only in England, give rights to members of the press and public to use modern technology and communication methods such as filming, audio-recording, blogging and tweeting to report the proceedings of the meetings of their councils and other local government bodies.

It will also allow them to see information relating to significant decisions made outside meetings by officers acting under a general or specific delegated power.