Feedback to Council: streaming/recording of meetings

Tonight’s (16 Dec) Monash Council meeting agenda includes a motion ‘Taking Council to the People’  by rotating Council meeting venues in 2015. The goals of the motion are not stated by the title implies the aim is improve community access to Council proceedings.

As Monash Council invites feedback from constituents I decided to provide feedback on an issue I had been pondering for some time: live streaming and recording of meetings.  My previous work places used such communication methods and my personal view was this would greatly aid community education and engagement in Council meetings.

What do you think? 
Would you like to see live streaming and /or recording of meetings?
Please read the correspondence below and leave your comments.

 

Monash Council Public Gallery overflowed during the aged care protest in 2013.  Usually there are spare seats.
Monash Council Public Gallery overflowed during the aged care protest in 2013. Usually there are spare seats.

 

My reply to Monash Council email 16 Dec 2014. Note: original Email reply received from Monash Council on 15 Dec 2014 is in black text with my response in red text.

Further below, in green text is my original email 14 Dec 2014.

Dear Paul,

I am rather taken aback at the reply I have received (on your behalf) to my email 15 Dec 14 requesting Council consider recording and streaming of Council meetings. In particular in regard to discovering a review of Local Law 1 was carried out in 2013: I have no recollection of this and I wonder whether there was any public consultation. So soon after a review I would have expected Monash to have more transparent and engaging meeting procedures.

Further comments to the email are inserted in red italics in your email text below.

I refer to your 14 December 2014 e-mail to the Mayor, Cr Klisaris, regarding webcasting/streaming of Council meetings.

The Mayor has requested me to provide you with a response on his behalf.

Thank you. I await the Mayor’s response on issues not addressed in the reply email e.g. the need to revamp Public Question Time.

An internal review of the Council’s Meeting Procedures Local Law No.1 was undertaken in late 2013. Part of the review included investigating webcasting/streaming of Council meetings.

The community is very aware of the review of Local Law 3 but this is the first I have heard of a review of Local Law 1. Evidently community feedback was not sought on this process. Community members who have tried to communicate with Council have much constructive feedback they could input to such a process. Would you make public all aspects of Local Law 1 that were considered during this review and the nature of public consultation?

The review found the following:

A small number of Councils currently stream Council meetings. These include Greater Dandenong, Nillumbik and Hobsons Bay.

As far as I can ascertain the following Councils are currently streaming or recording meetings and making these available online: Bayside (last recording 8 Dec 14), Campaspe (16 Dec), Cardinia (17 Nov 14), Hobsons Bay (2 Dec 14), Manningham (2 Dec 14), Wellington (5 Nov 14).

The small number of Councils streaming may be in part due to the poor financial situation some Councils are in. Monash Council is in a position to allocate funds to such a project and with 2014-2015 Budget currently being formulated revisiting this issue is timely. Unfortunately, there is no opportunity for community members to have input on the drafting of the budget.

The Shire of Cardinia and the cities of Melbourne and Greater Dandenong were involved in webcasting some years ago, when the Municipal Association of Victoria assisted interested Councils with funding, for a trial of webcasting. Both Melbourne and Cardinia ceased their webcasting, once the trial concluded. The ongoing costs, support and risk-related issues (please see the comments below from Council’s insurer) appear to have played a part in that decision.

The City of Greater Dandenong last posted a recording online for its meeting on 8 December 2014, the Shire of Cardinia on 17 November 2014. If they are still recording they have found the MAV trial had some worthwhile results and, by implication, have a case for value gained against cost.

Cardinia Shire Council recently re-visited the issue, but resolved not to pursue it. It costed the establishment of streaming at approximately $60,000. This cost involves the purchase of equipment, such as cameras, technical set up in the Council Chamber, technical support at meetings and costs for a carrier. The costs excluded staff training and possible editing of content. Cardinia’s assessment was that the cost of providing the service, relative to the likely demand within, and benefit to, the Cardinia community, appeared to be a major impediment at this point in time.

Cardinia Shire Council must have valued the importance of transparency and communicating with the community. They are using the less expensive option of MP3s to put 2014 meeting recordings online.

Was a comparison made of the requirements in Cardinia compared to the requirements in Monash? What other investigations were made of set ups for other Councils e.g. Melton where only audio recording is used? Do we need ‘state of art’ technology to meet the goal of communicating with the community? The appearance of an impediment in Cardinia is hardly a case for not pursuing the possibilities further in Monash. As the technology and skills are readily available across local industry and government sectors the Council needs to explore the options from many perspectives rather than randomly quoting an example.

The City of Yarra also considered webcasting, but decided not to pursue it. Issues of privacy, consent from members of the public to broadcast their images, etc, were cited as part of the reason Yarra was not pursuing webcasting.

The issue of content management has been raised by a number of Councils in relation to their assessment of whether to pursue webcasting or podcasting.

Preparing Policies and Procedures are essential when considering such a venture. See http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/AboutCouncil/Meetings/Documents/GUIDELINES%20FOR%20THE%20RECORDING%20OF%20COUNCIL%20AND%20COMMITEE%20PROCEEDINGS.pdf for an example of how to deal with these issues.

Privacy was another matter of concern. Concerns were raised about the reach of the ‘world wide web’ and individuals’ (usually members of the public) identities being placed on it. Consent would have to be obtained from any person who wished to make a submission or ask a question, for their appearance at the Council meeting to be recorded. These concerns were expressed where a Council provides for a high level of engagement/participation in a Council meeting by the community.

Again these issues need to be raised but with the purpose of providing a solution e.g. Greater Dandenong Council reads questions on behalf of the community member asking the question. Examples of Policies and Procedures for dealing with the issues are available online on government, university and other business web sites. As Monash persists with submitted questions the day before the meeting it would be easy to put a permission slip on a pro forma to be used. The questioner could tick boxes as to whether they will be filmed or a Council Office requested to ask their question and that they have read conditions/requirements/disclaimer regarding giving permission to be filmed/recorded. I accept a legal perspective on this approach is needed.

Webcasting has received a significant amount of attention in the sector in recent years, from a risk management perspective. Council’s insurer has provided advice, of a general nature, to Councils on webcasting. The insurer has listed the following risks relating to webcasting of Council meetings:

Public Council meetings are an open forum of statements, questions and answers. Occasionally, some things that are said may be regarded as offensive or defamatory, even though they are not at law, written material. When such statements occur during a meeting that is not webcast the potential for damage is confined to the audience in attendance.

In contrast, when a meeting is webcast the audience is potentially far greater, increasing the likelihood and/or severity of potential liability. Outlined below are some of the risks associated with webcasting, including defamation. The risks identified generally relate to the content of a meeting and the legal effect of publishing the content over the internet.

Councillors and members of the public attending meetings are not outside the law or responsibility to act in an ethical manner. The rest of the workforce conducts itself in an ethical and law abiding manner. Why should Monash Councillors be exempt? Are they breaking the law or acting unethically now? If a Councillor believes their behaviour in Council will step outside the law e.g. defaming a person, infringing copyright, I really hope they will step down and allow the community to elect a representative who can perform to regular work place quality standards.

In properly conducted Council meetings wouldn’t the risk factor be low? Did legal staff give an estimate of what it might be? Can copyright be breached and defamation occur in a vetted 100 word question?

There are ‘safety’ measures that can be employed to further minimise risk e.g. time delays between Chamber taping and publishing on the web, provision for the recording to be halted (and restarted) should a legal issue arise and prior notice (with reasons) for not recording some agenda items. This technology is not new, but widely used in workplaces. There is plenty of experience to draw on.

In summary Council needs to seek further appropriate legal advice and develop policy and procedures in accordance with best practice in this field. A Council that has cash reserves, such as Monash Council, should be able to undertake this and consider insurance.

However, before a cost benefit analysis can be effectively done the issue needs to be put to the community. The people who most need this facility do not appear to have been consulted.

Defamation
Defamation occurs when statements are made about a person, which causes injury to that person’s reputation. A defamatory statement can be in written form, or in verbal form. Council may be liable for defamatory statements made by Councillors and the public during a Council meeting. This liability is increased if the meeting is webcast.

Infringement of Copyright
A copyright owner has certain exclusive rights over their work. Infringement of copyright occurs when a person uses copyright material without the consent of the owner and the use contravenes one or more of the ‘exclusive rights’ of the owner. If someone at a Council meeting reads material subject to copyright, without the consent of the copyright owner, the person may have violated the copyright owner’s exclusive right to reproduce the material, if published as a webcast.

Breach of Privacy/Disclosure of Personal Information
Councils are required to comply with the Information Privacy Principles contained within the thenInformation Privacy Act (now superseded by the Data Protection and Privacy Act 2014). Councils may be liable for breach of the Information Privacy Principles if Councillors or Council Officers are found to have used, or disclosed, personal, health or sensitive information about individuals during a Council meeting and that information is webcast.

Publishing of Offensive Material
Council may be liable for a criminal offence under Commonwealth censorship legislation if it publishes content through a webcast relating to sex, drugs or violence, which is likely to cause offence to a reasonable person.

Councils are covered for any defamatory ‘publication’ that occurs as a result of webcasting activities subject to the other terms and conditions of its insurance policy. The policy would, for example, cover the Council’s liability for inadvertently webcasting a deliberate, malicious defamatory comment. However, a Councillor or Officer knowingly making a deliberately malicious or defamatory statement would not be covered.

Councils are provided with coverage in risk areas of defamation, infringement of copyright and privacy breaches. But that coverage does not extend to liability arising from publishing defamatory statements made by third parties i.e. members of the public. Coverage is also subject to existing policy conditions, in particular a Council demonstrating that it acted with ‘reasonable care’.

Pre-recorded or live broadcasts
The insurer recommends that Councils pre-record the webcast and ensure that it is thoroughly reviewed and signed off by an authorised member of Council before the webcast is made publicly available. For those Councils which prefer to broadcast meetings live or only with a short delay, it is important that a procedure is followed for the identification and treatment of problematic content (e.g. termination of webcast). A Council’s decision to pre‐record or broadcast live should take into consideration the level of risk exposure it is willing to retain.

A Council would need to consider whether the webcast will be made available for download at a later date or will only be accessible via Council’s website as a live broadcast. Both present risks.

A downloadable webcast can be viewed several times and may reach a greater audience than a live broadcast, thus increasing the potential of a claim arising. On the other hand, defamatory content is more likely to be found in a live broadcast which has undergone little or no editing compared to a pre-recorded (downloadable) webcast.

Members of the Public
A Council should ensure members of the public attending the Council meeting are notified of the webcast and obtain their written consent to record and publish their likeness and/or voice as part of the webcast.

Disclaimer
Councils may consider accompanying the webcast with a disclaimer, to provide some limited protection from liability. Generally, a disclaimer will include words to the effect that the opinions or statements made during the course of the Council meeting are those of the particular individual and not the opinions or statements of Council. The disclaimer can be included as part of the broadcast or separately as a link on the webpage prior to opening the link to the actual webcast. Councils should seek independent legal advice on the appropriate wording of a disclaimer to ensure that it meets Councils specific requirements.

Council should seek independent legal advice if in doubt about the appropriateness of the content of a webcast, prior to making it available.

For the reasons articulated above, the Council has not pursued webcasting/streaming of Council meetings.

This email, Monash Council’s answer to feedback on an issue I know to be of concern to some of the community (streaming or recording of meetings), indicates no willingness to engage the community. Once again it appears Council has acted in a reactive rather than proactive manner, dismissing feedback rather than taking it on. Council could, for example, engage the community and contact the new Local Government Minister, LGAV, other Councils, businesses, to create the possibility of working through this issue and improving Council communication.

I look forward to responses to my questions above.

Email sent to Mayor Cr Paul Klisaris 14 Dec 2014

Dear Paul,

I note with much interest your motion for Tuesday evening’s meeting to take the Council meetings to different venues throughout 2015. An initiative to encourage more community members to be at least present at Council meetings is very welcome.

May I suggest the issue of live streaming and recording of meetings be revisited (Monash Leader August 6 2013). The live streaming and recording of meetings will greatly increase the opportunities to educate and involve the community in local government. In particular Monash’s increasing senior and elderly community will have access to Council proceedings – if not in their homes through the Library and Senior Citiizens groups that have access to and capability with technology. Younger community members may also be more connected through such media use. Councillors, the community and the media will have access to accurate records of proceedings facilitating better reporting, communication and understanding.

Cr Drieberg indicates in the August 6 article that visits to public areas are a replacement for recordings. I contend, while Listening Posts are a welcome initiative, they largely serve a different purpose to the streaming and recording of meetings. The Listening Posts give members of the public the chance to pursue personal interests or to clarify concerns, whereas live streaming and recording of meetings gives the public a broader view of Council’s function and instant and efficient access to local government processes and procedures. A potential for translating meetings exists.

Below I have listed some Councils who are already streaming and/or recording – it is far from an exhaustive list. It would be nice to see Monash Council up there with the more innovative Councils and taking on more progressive and innovative approaches to community engagement.

I would like to point out I was going to put this in a question for Public Question Time but I am so fed up with the antiquated process Monash hides behind. I have squeezed my questions into the required 100 words only to find the meaning of the question is harder to discern, stood there and read it out and listened to a reply being read, a reply that usually does not address the essence of my query. Others express similar experiences. Public Question Time is a farce. Proactive Councils allow more questions per person, questions to be submitted just before the meeting starts, longer time periods for question time, a right of reply and public submissions on matters of interest. Hopefully you can develop Public Question Time into a more productive contributor to Council meetings and communication with the local community.

Please note I have copied this email to all Councillors, Dr Andi Diamond, EM&U supporters and the Leader Press.

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5 thoughts on “Feedback to Council: streaming/recording of meetings”

  1. Surprising comments from the former Mayor tonight! He graciously allowed that the new Mayor has a right to “put his own stamp” on the role (within reason). Geoff was kind enough to concede that Mayor Klisaris’s proposal to “Take Council to the People” was within reason and would therefore support the motion.
    The stunning comment was that Mr Lake believes that people generally trust the council to do the right thing and will let them know when they go astray so taking council to somewhere closer to different communities will not encourage any greater community engagement.
    The more people who can readily access council meetings the more chance there will be greater demand for greater engagement and participation. Perhaps some people find that confronting?!

    Like

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