Know your rights: Journalists don't need permission to live-tweet from council meetings

A reporter's experience covering a parish council meeting earlier this month exposed an apparent gap in government guidelines on live blogging.

Stuart Littleford, editor of the Saddleworth News, asked for permission to do live tweets from a special meeting of Saddleworth Parish Council, called to discuss controversial plans for a new school.

The chair, councillor Graham Sheldon, agreed. But he called for a vote after another councillor objected, claiming that Littleford should have given the council one week’s notice about his plans to tweet.

The vote went in Littleford’s favour, and he was allowed tweet and take photos of the meeting, which attracted 80 people.

Had the council refused permission, Littleford planned to produce a copy of communities secretary Eric Pickles’ guidelines on public access to local authority meetings issued earlier this year.

The guidelines state: "Bloggers, tweeters, facebook and YouTube users, and individuals with their own website, should be able to report meetings."

However, they only refer to council cabinets, and so strictly speaking, do not apply to parish councils.

Confusingly, though, The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012, indicate that parish councils are covered, because they are decision making bodies.

Local government communications expert Andy Carter, director of be_ambitious PR consultancy,said: "The crux of it is that a decision-making body must meet in public and therefore, in my view, the guidance above technically applies as a parish council makes decisions and spends public money and therefore has to allow 'access' to the public."

So it seems that Saddleworth parish council did not need to put the matter to the vote … and would have ended up with an even bigger problem had they denied Littleford the right to tweet.

They are now reviewing their procedures.

Cleland Thom is a consultant in media law

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