Move to limit tweeting at Town Hall meetings is “Stalinist”, says Redbridge councillor

A Redbridge councillor said plans which could limit the use of mobile phones and social networking at Town Hall meetings are “Orwellian lunacy” today.

Redbridge Council is considering plans which would let people tweet, text and take photos at public meetings but allow the meeting chair discretion to halt such use of mobile phones.

Cllr Paul Canal, of Bridge ward, branded the provision giving the chair such powers “Stalinist” today.

He urged other members to reject it ahead of a council meeting next month at which the changes will be discussed.

He said: “Even King Canute would baulk at trying to halt the use of smart phones and the spread of social media.

“The challenge in local government is not to control community engagement but encourage it. “Social media is a key route to rebuilding trust in transparent democracy.”

The changes were recommended by the council’s General Purposes Committee on February 16.

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The council could authorise filming of meetings if accepted.

And councillors, members of the public and the media would be able to use “mobile electronic devices” for “audio-visual recording” and “text-based communications”.

Council leader Keith Prince said the borough is one of the “most transparent” in the country but that there should be a “safeguard or safety net” within the proposals.

He said: “It’s not giving the chair a draconian power that no chair has had.

“In the history of local government, the chair has always had many powers to ensure the smooth running of a meeting.

“If you have a lot of members mucking around on BlackBerrys, the chair might think that’s not acceptable.

“The public might think the councillors are not paying attention to what’s going on.”

Members were already debating the proposals on Twitter – of course – this afternoon.

Cllr Ian Bond, deputy leader of the council, said proposals “put LBR [London Borough of Redbridge] at front of LAs [local authorities] allowing filming blogging etc.

“Chairs keep right to deal with disruption.”

In response, Mr Canal said: “Not so Ian.

“Change still leaves arbitrary ban in place at whim of Chairman.

“Should be by vote, if at all.”

Speaking to the Recorder, Cllr Wes Streeting, of Chadwell ward, said: “I think there’s some people in the council who need to move into the 21st century.

“I think not enough people know what is going on in the Town Hall.

“I’d like to see a compromise reached so the chair can take action where real disruption is being caused but which doesn’t lead to censorship.”

He said the power should not be given to one individual.

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