Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why on earth would council want to ban Twitter?

The Mercury has long campaigned for openness in council affairs and, in recent months, has had a number of very public spats with the city council in an effort to make its decisions more transparent. The Bowstring Bridge example springs to mind.

As such, I welcome the early comments of the new council leader, Coun Veejay Patel, who has vowed to make the authority less secretive.

Coun Patel has been in power for less than 48 hours and it is clearly going to take time to change a culture which is based on years of belief that the public only has a right to know that which the council wants it to know.

We wish Coun Patel well in his campaign.

The size of the task facing him is highlighted by our article in today's Mercury which details plans by Labour’s chief whip, Coun Barbara Potter, to ban the use of social media sites, Twitter in particular, during council meetings.

Twitter allows people to post short messages onto the internet almost instantaneously and is being used by councillors, journalists and members of the public to give an almost live feed of what is going on in council meetings.

It’s not clear how the council could legally ban its use, but more importantly, it is difficult to see why it would want to.

Live video streaming of Thursday night’s council meeting was watched by far more people than ever turn up to the council chamber and this was almost entirely due to the chatter on Twitter about the meeting.

More than 40 people clicked on the link I put on Twitter that evening and I know that many of them stayed to watch at least part of the meeting because I could see the discussion on Twitter. Even last night, people were still talking about the live stream.

One councillor told me that he thought there were about 15 people in the public gallery on the night and that that was more than usual.

So, why on earth would Coun Potter want to ban the use of something which increases public interest in council meetings? It doesn't make any noise or interupt the meeting. People will probably, wrongly, assume she has something to hide!

*This post is based on the opinion I wrote for today's Mercury.