Fellow Open Rights Group volunteer and Green Party Councillor Jason Kitkat has just been cleared, after a bizarre series of allegations were made against him by a fellow councillor.
Jason is a councillor in Brighton and Hove, where public council meetings are also webcast, and the recordings made available for download on the council’s web site. The complaints followed Jason’s decision to post several of these recordings on YouTube, so they could be seen more widely.
A Tory councillor complained that Jason had not obtained the consent of the people featured in the clips, had not told them that the clips were to be posted on YouTube, and that he had “infringed copyright of Council-owned images”.
The irony of a campaigner for reform of copyright laws being bludgeoned round the head with them was clearly lost on the Council. In a long and strange judgment, the initial investigation found that Jason was guilty of
- Using Council resources improperly for political or party political purposes; and
- Disrespecting another Councillor by showing him in an unflattering light
However, the videos were of public meetings, were made at public expense, and were freely available from the Council’s (publicly funded) website. How they qualified as ‘Council resources’, or how dissemination of them could possibly have been an improper use was never explained. Nor was it explained why posting videos of a meeting is an improper use, but posting minutes of the same meeting is not.
The decision to censure Jason for disrespect was justified by saying that the clip in question did not show the speaker in context. But the link to the video of the full meeting was available on the web site, and in any case, editing is one of the basic rights of journalism. No news organisation would cover politics at all if they had to broadcast the whole of every debate rather than clips from it.
The cherry on the cake is the supremely patronising sanction that the Council imposed. As well as an apology, Jason was ordered to “take training on the roles and responsibilities of being a Councillor”
Of course, Jason appealed to the First Tier Tribunal, which immediately quashed the decision, finding that the videos clearly weren’t ‘Council resources’, and that you can’t curb people’s freedom of speech in this way.
He told me
I’m delighted with the result, the Tribunal vindicated my actions and clarified that the councillor code of conduct shouldn’t be used to restrict freedom of expression. Furthermore attempts to use copyright to restrict my actions also failed. Ultimately, the code is far too open to abuse for political point scoring. It’s also unrealistic for untrained councillors to apply in hearing panels many layers of law, including the European Convention on Human Rights. I fully support abolishing the current councillor standards regime.
Despite the fact that Jason and I support different parties, I have nothing but respect for the work that he does in his local community. But do the Tories in Brighton and Hove really have nothing better to do?