Louth Town Council has rejected a request to allow the press to ‘live tweet’ its meetings for the second time in six months due to fears of councillors being distracted and tweets being taken out of context.
A request by Louth Leader reporter Sam Kinnaird was similarly knocked backed by councillors in January, and on Tuesday night they voted 9-7 against allowing live coverage.
The agenda item came after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles issued renewed guidance to principal authorities urging them to allow live tweeting and reporting, and even filming.
However parish councils, which include Louth Town Council, are not principal authorities and are still covered by the Public Bodies (Admissions to Meetings) Act 1960.
One councillor admitted he ‘really didn’t have a clue’ about Twitter, but said the press should wait until after meetings before publishing any tweets.
Current mayor Coun David Wing said the current system was a grey area, as the 1960 Act predated social media and therefore made it neither legal nor illegal.
But he did add that he was ‘totally against’ the idea.
Ex-mayor Coun Jill Makinson-Sanders told him that as members weren’t allowed to use their mobile phones, neither should a reporter.
She asked: “Members can’t use their mobile phones here, why should the public?”
“We’ve had a lot of instances where it’s been very off putting, why can’t they go outside?”
Coun Eileen Ballard said the chairman of any meeting was within his or her rights to ask someone using a mobile phone to leave the room.
Coun Laura Stephenson, who was not in favour of the original request in January where only two councillors voted for it, gave it her support on this occasion.
“I have had some time to think about this since the last time and there have been many occasions where I have wished that information could be given straight to the public,” she said.
“Especially when people say nasty things about people on other councils.
“It might make us mind our Ps and Qs a bit more, I don’t think tweeting is something that is a problem.
“It happens at East Lindsey and Lincolnshire County Council, it’s not going to disturb anybody.”
Coun Gus Robertson firmly backed the request. He said: “As the oldest councillor here I’m saying move with the times, let’s get on with it!”
Coun Sue Locking said care needed to be taken over what would be published in a live tweet.
“Once it’s been tweeted it’s in the public domain, there’s a possibility that something could be put that shouldn’t have been put,” she said.
Coun Fran Treanor urged the council to back the idea of live tweeting. “We could be the first parish council in this area that accepts this,” he said.
“You can see all the debates in the Lords at night on TV.
“The member of the press who requested this is here, it’s only going to help the press. I’m sure reporters are going to report accurately.”
Coun Roger Featherstone said Twitter would be used responsibly if it was approved but said he was ‘personally against’ the idea.
“I really haven’t got a clue what we’re talking about,” Coun Trevor Marris told the chamber.
“I agree with what Coun Ballard has said that it is distracting for the chairman.
“You have got to be very careful what you say, if they want to do it (tweet) they can do it straight after.”
Coun Andrew Leonard also raised concerns about the immediacy of Twitter.
“If it’s tweeted it’s gone, there’s no retraction,” he warned.
Coun Laura Stephenson proposed that the council approve the idea with the view to reviewing it six months later, but the council voted 9-7 against, meaning live tweeting during Louth Town Council meetings remains effectively outlawed.
What do you make of this decision? Is the council right to ban journalists from live tweeting their debates? Or do you think live tweeting would be a good thing?