Editorial May 29th 2020
Welcome to this weeks editorial In government we trust—or do we? We have come to expect less and less of our Council meetings but this week we discover that they have trimmed off four minutes and forty eight seconds from their live-stream video archive of the Tuesday May 26th meeting. One might have expected, if there was to be any editing, that there would be a removal of the Mayor saying "Ohhhh Shiiiit" at the 45:16 minute mark but the edits happened around what staff might have considered 'dead time". The first edit was during the wait for Clr Brown to renter the meeting after excusing himself on an issue of declaration of interest. The next two sections that were edited were most likely done to remove the "dead camera time" being the time it took for the Mayor to seek guidance on how to deal with a point of order against Clr Mayne. What can be heard on the video below is the audio of the missing video feed where, after the second time, they pause for clarification. What is deleted from Council's official record is where Councilor Brown says "He shuts up", to which Clr Mayne responds "Well that's helpful" and laughs. While it is not of great import the fact is that the Council video record has been tampered with. It is not a true and accurate record. Under who's authority and with what justification? The General Manager, Catherine Dale, is in charge of Communications so most likely this comes under her watch. For the sake of four minutes and forty eight seconds of video that shows councillors milling about waiting for an outcome it is now considered that Council has crossed a line with these edits where anyone watching any archival Council meeting records might wonder exactly what has been edited out. There is NO statement on the video to say that it has been edited and that it is NOT a true account of the meeting. The Beagle put the following questions to Council There is no statement that accompanies the video to warn residents and ratepayers that it is NOT a true and accurate recording. Can you please advise why instruction has been given to edit the footage and under whose authority did the instruction come. Were the Councillors advised that the footage would be edited before being made publicly available? In light of the find can you please advise if any previous Council meeting footage has been edited and can you advise if this is now a practice that we can come to expect of Council.
A response came back from a Council spokesperson that said “the livestream and supply of the meeting recording is managed entirely by a third-party. Part of the contractor’s role is to index the recording to make it more user-friendly. You’d be familiar with that functionality. While conducting that work, the contractor removed parts of the recording where nothing was seen or heard. We have requested these edits be reinstated to the recording, and instructed our contractor not to do this in future. Council staff did not delete anything from the recording, nor did they instruct anyone to do so.” In a nutshell Council says that the video is managed entirely by a third-party and it was that contractor who, under no instruction of council, edited the video. The editing of the video and the failure for Council to clearly advise viewers that it had been edited has left a distinct taste of distrust as this comes on the heels of Council previously editing out a full thirteen minutes of Council meeting video when a member of the public insinuated malfeasance and refuse to retract it. Council have chosen to throw the contractor ‘under the bus’ by saying that they have ignored the March 2020 Office of Local Government Guidelines of Webcasting that clearly states: Can a webcast recording be altered before or after it is published? A webcast recording can be altered after it is recorded (including livestream webcasts) to remove any content that is not suitable for public broadcast or that may expose the council to a potential legal liability. Councils have the flexibility to decide how to edit a webcast recording. It can simply be muting the sound in the recording or removing portions of the recording. The general manager is responsible for deciding if a webcast is to be altered. Before making such a decision, it may be appropriate for the general manager to seek legal advice and to consult with the Chairperson and the other councillors. Councils should include a statement on their website where the recording can be accessed advising users that the webcast has been altered for legal reasons. The Beagle has looked at the register of Contracts and can not find anyone listed there (though the listings start at $150,000 per year upwards. The contractor referred to may well be an in-house contractor employed by Council to edit the videos and avail them to Council’s website. Of interest however is the fact that in 2015 Council paid $18,000 pa to an external provider for webcasting service that would no doubt include the meeting indexing. So is it an internal or external contractor? Either way it appears that, under the volition of the contractor, the record was manipulated and removed the fact that the Mayor did not know how to deal with a Point Of Order and, when pressed, staff eventually offered advice that was actually incorrect. It turns out that Councillor Mayne had every right to be heard when he challenged the Mayor on her determination. Fortunately through the revelations and protestations of The Beagle Council have been put on notice that the editing was in fact noticed, it was revealed, it was publicly decried for its possible deceit by omission and will now see Council restore the full, unedited record of the Council meeting to the website to reflect a true and accurate account of the meeting. In the meantime we shall endeavour to discover who the contractor is so as to offer them a right of reply as they have now been identified as the miscreant who breached the official guidelines of the Office of Local Government. It will be interesting to learn if they did so under instruction because if they didn’t then they have failed in their duty and publicly declared as having done so by their employer… our Council. Until next—lei
Question: Did the contractor fail in their duty of care and obligation to follow OLG guidelines that clearly state what is required if footage is edited or .... did council instruct the contractor to do the edit? And is there actually a contractor as advised by ESC?