Openness, accountability and transparency.
These buzzwords are often uttered by our politicians alongside heartfelt promises to make public processes better for you – the public.
Take the recent decision by Canmore’s council to amend its procedural bylaw to allow the municipality to videotape public meetings and post them online, a move that makes council more open and transparent.
But as part of the debate to make this possible council also chose to uphold a ban on media recording public meetings.
In our free and democratic society, local reporters are not allowed to use their tools of choice in a public meeting because council has the discretion to disallow electronic recordings of meetings.
The preference of councillors was for meetings in their entirety to be posted online by the municipality alone because of a concern discussions could be taken out of context if the media was allowed to record them.
Taking politicians out of context is not a realm exclusively held by recording devices – it is possible regardless of how information is gathered.
Are council’s concerns realistic? We don’t really think so. It is more likely a blend of history and of being able to have the upper hand over local media on this one issue.
Politicians have no control over newspaper coverage and that is the beauty the freedom of the press – a cornerstone of our democratic system.
They can’t tell RMO what to publish, what angle to take, what is a story or what we can write here in our editorials. And they can’t keep us out of their meetings.
What they can do, and have done, is tell us we can’t record them… on tape that is.
Then there is the history lesson because council has been burned before.
In 1992, during the discussions around Three Sisters Mountain Village, which some of you may remember as being slightly more than acrimonious, the local radio station had a reporter in attendance at one of the meetings.
That reporter took an audio clip of then Mayor Paula Andrews out of context, which created a major controversy and, we’re sure, a lot of headaches.
Hence the ban on recording at Canmore council meetings was established.
At the end of the day, it is in politicians best interest to allow recording as it provides better accuracy for direct quotes and other important information.
Waiting for an “official” version to be posted online to check accuracy is not a reasonable expectation given the fact we are a deadline driven industry.
And while disappointed with the decision, it is a good move to give the public access to live council meetings. Now everyone can see and hear what is said and done and discussed and by whom, who has read their agenda package, who is asking questions, who is paying attention and every single amendment proposed.
We’re excited. We’re sure council is excited, too.