Media challenged over use of cameras during meeting
THEY are officially called ordinary council meetings, but quite often they are anything but.
That was again the case inside Livingstone Shire Council chambers on Tuesday last week when media representatives were challenged over their use of cameras during a meeting.
For the past seven months, The Morning Bulletin reporter Darryn Nufer and Spectator News Magazine's John Watson have used cameras during meetings to photograph motions and resolutions as they appear (and change) on the display screen.
The sole purpose of doing so was for the recording of the correct information in the name of accuracy.
Never were these photographs published, nor was there ever any intention to publish them.
They were for note-taking and recording purposes only.
And never had anyone taken issue with this practice - until last Tuesday.
What unfolded mid-meeting was an unusual series of events given the person with the objection was not actually present.
Councillors were discussing an item when Mr Nufer took a photo of a motion on the display screen.
Nothing was said about this.
A short time later, Mr Watson did the same but he was pulled up by Mayor Bill Ludwig.
"Sorry Mr Watson, I think the previous CEO's asked, requested that photos not be taken," Cr Ludwig said.
This was the first the media, who regularly attend these meetings, had heard about it.
Mr Watson replied to Cr Ludwig: "I'm photographing the motion."
Cr Ludwig: "Yeah, sorry, but I know that she's previously asked, so just reminding you of that."
Mr Watson said: "What's secret about a motion?"
That was when Mr Watson's son, Rhodes Watson, sitting in the public gallery chimed in with: "You're not going to stop Darryn then?"
Cr Ludwig said: "They're just photographs, you can ask and we can give you a copy of it (motion) but they specifically asked that question, sorry."
The mayor then attempted to get the meeting back on track and discussions around the council table about the initial item being considered, continued.
Cr Mather spoke on that item and then as Cr Ludwig started to speak about it, he changed course and said: "Look I'll just give a clarification for Mr Watson.
"One of the reasons why, you can take a snapshot here at one point in time, but that recommendation (being discussed) might change.
"We need to wait until it's there. I'm happy to give you a print out of it."
Mr Watson then asked: "Do we get the print out today?"
And Cr Ludwig replied: "Well if you request that I'm pretty sure that we can."
Mr Watson: "Well I request it and so does Darryn."
Mr Nufer then said to Cr Ludwig: "Ah, Mr Mayor, that hasn't been available previously on the day of the meetings which is (pause)."
Cr Ludwig asked: "Had a specific request been made?"
Mr Nufer: "Yes."
Cr Ludwig said he would address that (and true to his word, he subsequently did).
Mr Watson added: "And also that motion usually gets removed as soon as you do it and you don't get time to take it down or photograph it."
Some more discussion took place between Mr Watson and Cr Ludwig before the former said: "It's been my experience over 55 years that councils try to help the media to cover their meetings so that they can get the message out to the people on what you're doing."
Cr Ludwig acknowledged that the media had made reasonable requests before steering the council meeting back onto course.
Later it was confirmed that CEO Chris Murdoch was the person Cr Ludwig was referring to when he said: "I think the previous CEO's asked, requested that photos not be taken."
Ms Murdoch was on leave at the time of last Tuesday's meeting and Brett Bacon deputised for her.
After the public discussion with the mayor at the council meeting, Mr Watson was told he had to ask for permission to use his Spectator News Magazine camera in the chamber during meetings.
So he wrote to the council requesting that print journalists be afforded the same privileges accorded to television journalists within the chamber (the freedom to take photographs while council is meeting).
In written correspondence, acting CEO Mr Bacon yesterday advised Mr Watson: "Journalists are permitted to take photographs during the course of a council meeting from the media area only.
"Furthermore, officers will endeavour to present reports in a manner which does not impede vision of the screen and respects the current layout of the room."
Also yesterday, a council representative spoke to The Morning Bulletin to discuss ways in which the council could assist media covering meetings.
That approach was initiated by the council.