Briefing for members on legal implications of relaxing recording/broadcasting of
Council Assembly meetings
The general position with regard to meetings is that the Council is not required “to permit the taking
of photographs of any proceedings or the use of any means to enable persons not present to see or
hear any proceedings (whether at the time or later) or the making of any oral report on any
proceedings as they take place” (Section 100A Local Government Act 1972).
In short, no form of photography, filming, recording or broadcasting of Council Assembly meetings
can take place unless the Council gives permission. Such permission is given through the Mayor at
If the Council decides to relax the recording/broadcasting of Council Assembly meetings to include,
for example, webcasting consideration needs to be given to the following:
• The provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.
• The Human Rights Act 1998.
• A number of procedural matters.
• Aspects of the law on defamation.
• Copyright for usage of any footage.
Data Protection Act 1998 (‘DPA 1998’)
Images of members of the public that may be captured by, for example, webcasting cameras are
potentially ‘personal information’ and therefore subject to the requirements of the DPA 1998. Under
the DPA 1998 personal information must be used fairly and, ordinarily, only for purposes for which
the individual has given their consent.
Care must therefore be taken to ensure that there has been compliance with data protection
requirements and that members of the public have given effective consent to their own appearance
in any webcasts etc.
The Council could take the following steps to ensure such compliance:
• Using communications with members of the public who are likely to be filmed, for example
deputations and questioners, to make them aware that the meeting is to be
• Putting notices on the order of business for Council Assembly meetings to make members of
the public aware that the meeting is being webcast/recorded.
• Using appropriate signage to be displayed inside and outside the Council Chamber.
• Making the public aware of the webcast/recording during the informal session which it has
been proposed takes place prior to the formal Council Assembly meetings.
In addition, the current practice whereby the Mayor makes a formal announcement at the start of the
meeting should be continued.
By remaining in the Council Chamber members of the public will then be deemed to have given their
consent (impliedly) for any images etc of themselves that may be taken to be used for broadcast
and any other appropriate purposes e.g. training purposes within the Council.
Anyone wishing to make a deputation, present a petition or ask a public question who had
concerns about broadcasting/webcasting could be directed to a designated officer on the
Constitutional Team. However the expectation is that this would only happen in exceptional
circumstances as members of the public making a deputation, presenting a petition or asking
a question are likely to be seeking maximum publicity.
There may also be a requirement to address the responsibilities of members of the public
who record or photograph Council Assembly proceedings towards other individuals who are
in attendance. This would include coverage by media outlets and citizens journalists for
example on twitter.
Human Rights Act 1998/European Convention on Human Rights
The recording and broadcasting of images of individuals might also engage Article 8 of the
European Convention. That is, the Right to respect for private and family life. However,
Council Assembly meetings are required by law to be held in public (section 100A Local
Government Act 1972) and individuals will, if as proposed above, be made aware that a
meeting is being webcast/recorded. Consequently, insofar as images of the public may be
recorded, it is likely any interference with Article 8 Rights would have a lawful basis, and can
be considered proportionate with regard to the rights and freedom of others to engage in the
democratic process. General procedural provisions
The Mayor would retain the discretion to request the termination or suspension of the
recording/webcast, if in the opinion of the Mayor, continuing to record/webcast the meeting
would prejudice the proceedings of the meeting.
The circumstances in which termination or suspension might occur could include:
• Public disturbance or suspension of the meeting.
• Exclusion of public and press being moved and supported.
• The Mayor, on advice, considering that continued recording/filming might infringe the
rights of any individual.
• The Mayor, on advice, considering that a defamatory statement has been made.
No exempt or confidential agenda items would be recorded/webcast.
It is important that members appreciate that statements made at Council Assembly meetings
are subject to the law of defamation. Extending the reporting/recording of Council Assembly
meetings will therefore bring any defamatory statement into the public domain more quickly
and potentially to a much wider audience.
What is defamation? A person is entitled to his/her reputation and good name: particularly if
they hold public or professional office and their position and reputation depends on a large
degree of public trust and confidence. Accordingly, communication of a matter which is
untrue and likely to disparage substantially a person's reputation is, on the face of it,
defamation. Defamation is defined as the publication to another person of an oral or written
Exposes a person to hatred, ridicule or contempt; or
• Causes him/her to be shunned or avoided; or
• Has the effect of lowering his/her reputation in the estimation of right-thinking
members of the public generally; or
• Injures him/her in their office, profession or trade.
A defamatory spoken word or gesture will usually amount to a slander whereas a libel may
be contained in a written or printed statement, or in a painting, talking film, caricature,
advertisement or any disparaging object. Reading out a defamatory document in a Council
Assembly meeting would not be slander but the publication of a libel. A defamatory
statement broadcast on radio, television the internet or a social networking site is treated as
the publication of a libel and not slander.
There are a number of defences available to an action for defamation. The defence most commonly
available to a defamatory statement made in local authority proceedings is known as privilege. It is a
complete defence to an action for defamation to show that the statement was made on a privileged
occasion. Privilege may be absolute or qualified, however absolute privilege does not attach to
Council Assembly meetings. Qualified privilege exists where:-
• the person who makes a communication has an interest or duty (whether legal, social or
moral) to make it to the person to whom it is made; and
• the person to whom it is made has a corresponding interest or duty to receive it; and
• the person who makes the communication is not motivated by malice.
Qualified Privilege will attach to statements made at Council Assembly whether contained in a
report or spoken. It will be a complete defence to prove that the person had a duty or interest to
make the statement, that there was a corresponding duty or interest on the part of the recipient to
receive it and that he was not motivated by malice. So long as a person believes in the truth of what
is said malice cannot normally be inferred. Malice may be inferred however, if it can be shown that
he or she was motivated by a purpose other than their interest or duty to make the statement.
Under the Local Government Act 1972 the press and public must on request be allowed access to
or in certain circumstances be supplied with the agenda and certain other documentation relating to
matters to be considered by the Council or a Committee. The 1972 Act provides that where such
matter is made available to the press or to the public, the agenda and other documents are
privileged unless publication is proved to have been made with malice. However, further publication
by the press and/or public will not be privileged unless it satisfies the usual conditions for Qualified
Privilege to attach.
Other defences include:-
Justification - i.e. the defamatory statement is true and if so provides a complete defence.
Fair Comment - this defence is intended to allow any person (but in particular the press) to
express their views honestly and fearlessly on matters of public interest even though that
may involve "strong" criticism of the conduct of persons in the public arena or who hold
public office. In this connection the administration of local affairs by the Council is a matter
of public interest.
Unintentional Defamation - in cases of unintentional and non-negligent defamations, a
defendant may avoid liability to pay damages if he is willing to publish a reasonable
correction and apology and to pay the claimants costs and expenses reasonably incurred as
a consequence of the publication in question (e.g. costs of consulting a solicitor, obtaining
Counsel's opinion etc.)
The existing checks which are in place to ensure that any potentially defamatory statement is
removed from reports etc prior to publication of the agenda will need to be re-enforced. The Council
will also need to ensure that it does not (or appear to) endorse any defamatory statement made by a
member of the public at the meeting itself. As stated above it would be prudent for the Mayor, on
advice, to terminate or suspend the recording/filming of a meeting where a defamatory statement is
made. In addition consideration ought to be given to the Monitoring Officer having appropriate
powers to remove, for example, webcasts or parts of webcasts from the Council’s website where a
breach of any legal provision is likely to arise.
A defamatory statement made by a member could also constitute a breach of the Code of Conduct
and webcasts may be used as evidence in any subsequent investigation.
the Council wishes to enforce copyright it would need to publish appropriate terms and
conditions for the use of footage of any webcasts including a statement that the footage is
the copyright of the Council and that any download or upload of the footage is not permitted
without the written permission of the Council and those featured in the same. Any terms and
conditions of use would also need to contain a reminder that video sharing sites such as
YouTube and Google Video, state under their terms and conditions that in order to upload
videos onto their sites you must be the copyright owner and have the permission of all those