Friday 17 June 2011

Quoting out of context

The row which erupted after the arrest of fellow-blogger Caebrwyn for filming a stormy meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council has rumbled on for more than a week now, with countless blog posts, newspaper articles, TV news reports and tweets. Questions have been asked in the Welsh Assembly, Dyfed Powys Police are giving us all an object lesson in how not to manage PR, and now a welter of Freedom of Information requests asking all 22 Welsh councils what their policy is on filming, tweeting and otherwise recording meetings which are open to the public.

The Assembly Government's response has been that it is up to each council to decide. In other words, they are actively promoting a postcode lottery policy.

All the signs are that this row will rumble on for a long time to come, and deservedly so because it goes to the heart of our democracy and civil liberties. Do we have the right to know what our councils are doing in our name and with our money? Don't we have the right to be free from the fear of arbitrary arrest?

The official minutes of the meeting, whenever they come out, will almost certainly make no mention of the row over the closure of the Day Club in Llandeilo. They will not tell you that two councillors were threatened with expulsion for trying to force a debate on the issue. They will not tell you that a member of the public was arrested for filming the meeting, even though filming is not actually against the council's own rules. The Carmarthenshire News, the council's "newspaper", will make no mention of any of this at all when it comes, unwanted, through our letterboxes.

And you won't be able to write to the "Camarthenshire News" about this or anything else, for that matter, because the council does not want to hear what people have to say.

In the recent debate about whether or not councils should be filmed or film themselves, one objection has come up over and over again; and that is that councillors are worried that they might be quoted out of context. Dear me. There is nothing to stop you, me or anyone else taking a printed version of their words and quoting them out of context. Are they proposing to ban that new-fangled device, the printing press?

One of the hazards of standing for public office is that politics can be a rough game. Your words are likely to be quoted out of context if you say anything worthwhile or meaningful (a good number of Carmarthenshire's councillors can sleep easy on that score). It has even been known for politicians to quote each other out of context.

So here's a quote in context. Here was Councillor Meryl Gravell (Independent), leader of the county council, addressing a meeting of the full council back in February 2008 in a debate about plans to close 40 village schools across the county:

“Some (council) members exhibit extreme weakness and are prepared to listen to people protesting about school closures out there…in the community.”

Whatever next. Fortunately members of the ruling Independent/Labour group have toughened up since then, as parents, staff and pupils of Ysgol Pantycelyn and the elderly users of the county's day clubs will know.

Let's end with another quote in context. Here is the new chair of council, Cllr Ivor Jackson, addressing Cllr Siân Caiach who had been asking for a debate on the closure of the day clubs. "I'll not answer you again, or I'll ask you to remove yourself from the chamber."


Anonymous said...

Great post. Can't wait to see the minutes of the meeting and compare with reality. I will be publishing the result of all the Freedom of Information requests i've made as soon as i get the responses on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Its not just welsh councils ,residents in glasgow are currently
fighting east dunbartonshire council and glasgow council over a proposed building application.
I have been refused public access infomation no less than 12 times and my FOI requests are
Lost on a dialy basis. All councils in the uk it seems are secretive and operate on bribes.

When we did get a meeting with east dunbartonshire council they refused to attend , but instead
Sent councilours to hide in the crowd to listen and then object to our discussion.

Corruption it seems is running rampant in the uks councils.

Anonymous said...

Can i also say to make an FOIA request in carmarthenshire costs £10
While pembs, swansea and ceredigion it is FREE

A deterrent not to make FOIA requests......