New regulations giving journalists and the public new rights to report on local council meetings come into force today.
The move comes after Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles (pictured, Reuters) signed a Statutory Instrument – the Openness of Local Government Regulations 2014, (SI No 2095 of 2014) – which allows the press and public to film, digitally report, and tweet from all public meetings of local government bodies.
This "right to report" updates the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960, which was pushed through Parliament by Margaret Thatcher, who was at that time a backbench MP, and gave the press the right to report on meetings.
The new regulations – which apply only in England – are intended to end the resistance in some authorities to greater openness and the use of new technology to report on and film or broadcast council meetings.
Some councils have called police to arrest people who tried to report, tweet or film their meetings, or have claimed the power to ban reporting on "health and safety" grounds or because of the danger that it would bring "reputational risks".
The new rules will apply to all public meetings, including town and parish councils and fire and rescue authorities.
Pickles, 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."