The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, will be forced to be more open to journalists and members of the public under new rules announced today. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles signed an order making it clear that council meetings can be filmed and tweeted about.
The moves comes after a number of incidents in Tower Hamlets when journalists and members of the public have been ejected from the town hall for employing new technology to record meetings. Last year Eric Pickles stated that councils should allow members of the public to film, but Tower Hamlets still refused because he had not changed the law.
At the time the Trial by Jeory blog reported the council said that filming of meetings risked “reputational damage to the authority”. The letter also claimed that this sort of reporting risked infringing the privacy of those at the meeting, despite it being open to the public.
Tower Hamlet’s Head of Paid Service, Stephen Halsey said: “I do not consider that allowing unregulated and potentially damaging third party filming is the best way to achieve this, particularly as there is, in fact, no requirement to do so.”
However, now the order has been signed Tower Hamlets will be forced to comply, whether they like it or not. Similarly there was another incident when Ted Jeory was thrown out of annual council after a row over his tweeting of the event. Despite Mr Jeory being a journalist he was removed from the meeting by security guards.
Whilst Pickles did not directly comment on incidents in Tower Hamlets his statement did make clear he was unhappy with councils preventing proper reporting. He said: “Local democracy needs local journalists and bloggers to report and scrutinise the work of their council, and increasingly, people read their news via digital media.”
He continued: “There is now no excuse for any council not to allow these new rights. Parliament has changed the law, to allow a robust and healthy local democracy.
“This will change the way people see local government, and allow them to view close up the good work that councillors do.”
The local government secretary also drew a parallel with concerns he had previously raised about East End Life, Lutfur Rahman’s propaganda newspaper. The Mayor has been accused of using the paper to bankrupt independent rivals in order to strifle local criticism of him.
Pickles said: “The new ‘right to report’ goes hand in hand with our work to stop unfair state competition from municipal newspapers – together defending the independent free press.”
Attacks on free speech is just one of a long list of allegations against Rahman. As previously reported on Breitbart London he is now subject to a serious legal challenge to his election by local residents who allege electoral fraud.
Other incidents wherein press freedom was recently restricted have been highlighted by the government, including: