Eric Pickles sparks new row over council meeting blogging

Mobile phone generic Eric Pickles says he will publish new guidance on tweeting from meetings

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The local government secretary in England has re-ignited a row with Welsh ministers over councils opening up meetings for bloggers to report and film.

Eric Pickles challenged English councils to open up planning committees but also took a swipe at the Welsh government for "rebuffing" the idea.

At least 11 of Wales' 22 councils allow blogging from council meetings already.

A Welsh government source said attacks by Mr Pickles had become tedious.

He accused Mr Pickles of having an "unhealthy obsession" with the issue.

In Wales, at least half of Welsh councils allow blogging by members of the public at meetings, including Carmarthenshire, Cardiff, Conwy and Gwynedd.

In addition, three are happy for people to film proceedings - Anglesey and Monmouthshire, along with Bridgend, which says it is at the discretion of the meeting's chair.

Start Quote

Once again, Eric Pickles is abusing taxpayers' money to fund his unhealthy obsession with matters in Wales”

End Quote Welsh government source

Other local authorities say they are looking to develop a firm policy on the issue or have run trials, such as Blaenau Gwent which allowed social media to be used during a planning meeting into proposals to build the Circuit of Wales race track in the area.

BBC Wales contacted all of Wales' 22 local authorities about what they allowed.

It came after Mr Pickles warned that freedom of speech and independent hyper-local journalism was under attack in local government with residents being threatened with arrest for filming and reporting meetings.

'Obsessive'

He said he would be publishing new guidance to allow tweeting from and filming of planning appeals and he laid down a challenge to councils in England to open up planning and other meetings.

Eric Pickles Eric Pickles said some English councils were still resisting social media in meetings despite new guidance

But Mr Pickles said the Welsh government had "rebuffed" the suggestion that the same approach should be taken to open up council meetings in Wales as is being pushed in England.

"Welsh ministers have claimed that the interest in openness is an 'unhealthy obsession'. Yet a blogger in Carmarthenshire was arrested and handcuffed by the police for filming a council meeting," he added.

A Welsh government source said: "Once again, Eric Pickles is abusing taxpayers' money to fund his unhealthy obsession with matters in Wales .

"He is misquoting and using misinformation to run cheap political attacks against the Welsh Labour government. He's now become a tedious repeat offender.

"The Welsh government has better things to do with its time and resources than attack Eric Pickles' abysmal performance in England. 'Obsessive Eric' clearly has too much time on his hands."

Earlier this year, Mr Pickles entered the debate on the ongoing row between Carmarthenshire council and blogger Jacqui Thompson who was arrested in 2011 after trying to film a meeting on her mobile phone.

Under the hashtag #daft arrest, he tweeted that the law had been changed in England allowing people to to report, tweet and film council meetings.

Councils which allow blogging and filming of public meetings

Council Allow blogging or filming?

Anglesey

Yes to blogging and filming

Blaenau Gwent

No

Bridgend

Yes to blogging and filming, but at the discretion of the meeting's chairperson

Caerphilly

No

Cardiff

Yes to blogging, no to filming

Carmarthenshire

Yes to blogging, no to filming

Ceredigion

No but preparing to go live with a webcast of meetings

Conwy

Yes to blogging, no to filming

Denbighshire

Asked for a response

Flintshire

Yes to blogging, not to filming

Gwynedd

Yes to blogging, no to filming

Merthyr Tydfil

Yes to blogging, no to filming

Monmouthshire

Yes to blogging and filming

Neath Port Talbot

Did not respond

Newport

Tweeting allowed

Pembrokeshire

Filming allowed before meetings

Powys

Asked for a response

Rhondda Cynon Taf

Asked for a response

Swansea

Asked for a response

Torfaen

Preparing to go live with a webcast of meetings

Vale of Glamorgan

No policy on blogging and no to filming

Wrexham

Yes to tweeting and no to filming

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