Caution urged over live streamed council meetings

Peter Winter

Reporter:

Peter Winter

Email:

peter.winter@thechronicle.uk.com

Sunday 3 July 2022 8:00

COUNCILLORS must give careful consideration streaming meetings because of the difficult decisions that affect the lives of the rate-paying public.

That was one of the conclusions of a report on moves to broadcast full council and committee meetings on the internet.

“The chamber makes very important and difficult decisions, affecting the lives of our ratepayers and public,” states the report.

“Therefore, members, council officials and external individuals may have concerns over the live recording and retention of these images.

“Consideration should be given to consultation with those affected by this possible change in practise.”

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Councillors agreed to consider live streaming meetings last month.

The proposal was tabled after members heard technology acquired during Covid pandemic would make broadcasts to the general public “relatively straight forward.”

Until April 2020, the only way to follow debates and witness votes was by attending the chamber at the council's Cloonavin HQ in Coleraine.

When Covid struck Stormont changed the rules to allow members to meet remotely or in a hybrid format - with some members online and, those who preferred, attending the chamber.

A move to provide full public access to live streams was made by Ulster Unionist Councillor Darryl Wilson at a meeting of the council's Corporate Policy and Resources Committee in May.

It came after he'd been told by the council's ICT chief that streaming technology used by Causeway Coast and Glens had advanced “by leaps and bounds” in the previous two years.

The disruption brought by the pandemic has prompted a province-wide rethink over how councils conduct business.

Earlier this year the Stormont department that oversees local government opened a consultation on making new arrangements permanent.

The response from Causeway Coast and Glens at least has been overwhelmingly positive.

In its submission, approved by elected members, the council said hybrid meetings not only allowed them to function effectively throughout the pandemic, but have the potential to “transform” local government.

“It could encourage a more diverse offering of people getting involved in politics by breaking down traditional barriers such as childcare (or other caring responsibility), access to travel, work commitments, etc,” the submission states.

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