Councillors using videos to hold each other accountable


…Which makes a nice change given the problems us community camerapeople have had trying to ensure not just that we can film, but that we can get decent audio that people can hear as well.

This from the full council meeting at Cambridge Guildhall (Cambridge City Council) on 20 October 2016.

Note at 9mins 15 seconds Cllr Lewis Herbert (Leader of the city council and Labour ward councillor for Coleridge) challenges Cllr Markus Gehring (Lib Dems – Newnham) to find video footage of where he gave a commitment to bring major city deal decisions to full council. Note at 11 mins 45 seconds Cllr Rod Cantrill (Lib Dems – Newnham) tells Cllr Herbert that although he did not stay to the end of the city deal board meeting that previous week, he did watch the video footage of the time he was out of the meeting.

A couple of things to note:

It wasn’t a straight forward process to persuade councillors generally that members of the public could turn up and film council meetings. Here’s Richard Taylor up the road in Huntingdon in 2013.

This was despite this piece of guidance from central government some two years before – see

It was as a result of experiences like this that The Government tabled new regulations in Parliament – subsequently approved – giving the right of members of the public to rock up to council meetings and start filming. (See

“Splendid! So everyone’s happy now?”

Well…not really.

“Why not?”

Audio. Have a listen.

This was at Shire Hall, Cambridge.

This was at The Guildhall, Cambridge.

Cllr Richard Robertson (featured) is naturally softly spoken. But because he didn’t speak directly into the desk microphone (which seem designed to be used by speakers sitting down), I had to ramp up the volume in editing by 500%. Hence the ‘hissing’ sound when he speaks when compared to Eleanor Leeke who asked the public question on behalf of riverboar residents on the River Cam.

“If you don’t get the audio, what’s the point on filming?”

One of the earliest lessons I learnt making digital videos was that audio makes up more than 50% of the content of a video. A viewer is more likely to tolerate poor visuals so long as the audio is solid compared to the other way around. And let’s face it, with most of my footage being from local democracy meetings it is the audio that really counts.

Councillors: Think accessibility

If no one watched my videos, it wouldn’t be an issue. But have a look at the data below:


The above is before the recent peak from the full council meeting of 20 October – which in the past 18 hours has tracked over 300 hits/views…which for a small local council meeting is unreal. Local residents are interested. Funnily enough, the wider (if I can call it) Cambridge diaspora also seem interested – with the data showing one person in Monaco and one in Jersey watching through a good half an hour of footage.

Many of the people who watch the videos – the ones that feed back to me – are people who for one reason or another cannot get to council meetings. For some this will be due to caring responsibilities, for others it’ll be mobility impairments. But either way, audio and acoustics matter. Council chambers done seem to be designed well for good audio – which seems strange given the space is for public speeches. The speakers that most councils use feel like they are from a bygone era, or are so small that the voices of speakers lose their natural warmth and thus sound squeaky or if the speaker has a deep voice, inaudible.

“Better microphones & audio speakers, better microphone training?”

Or public speaking training and practice? Cambridge Toastmasters run regular sessions for people interested in improving their public speaking. The safe practice space for current and potential councillors is there on our city’s doorstep.

On microphones, expenditure may sound like a luxury, but the more meetings that community camerapeople and citizen journalists turn up to, and the more views we get on our video pages, the more important having a better sound system becomes. Less of a luxury and more of an essential.

“Does anyone control the audio in the Guildhall?”

Here’s Puffles from a past UKGovCamp at London’s City Hall.


Rather than having councillors and speakers fiddling with whether microphones work, there is one specialist sound engineer controlling whose microphone is on, under the direction of the chairperson.

The arrangement above for me would save a huge amount of time for everyone. Speakers could concentrate on the message they want to get across while the sound engineer controls volume, community reporters and camera crew can pick up a separate and much more clear audio feed with much less background noise on a USB stick from which to splice with the video footage in editing, and everyone watching the video back has a more pleasant experience listening in at their leisure.

“Anything on councillors holding each other accountable?”

It was interesting to hear councillors referring to video footage in their exchanges. A bit of me was like: “Yeah? Care to name the people that did the filming, editing and the publishing online only it didn’t happen by itself?!?!!?” But then the rest of me was quite pleased that councillors were referring to the video footage in the normal course of debate to the extent that being filmed was now normal for them. ie not only is there nothing really to be afraid of (unless they want to portray themselves as something other than who they really are, or give conflicting & inconsistent messages to different audiences), but the video footage can be useful for everyone.



One thought on “Councillors using videos to hold each other accountable

  1. Firstly, it is unfair that people like you are now expected to video council meetings (and the councillors’ comments show that it is expected) without some sort of financial compensation. While it’s unnecessary to pay full commercial rates while members of the public will volunteer to do the job, equally they should not be out of pocket for doing so. A system needs to be worked out for this.

    Secondly, although it won’t solve the problems of speakers not using (or knowing how to use) microphones, access to the sound system should be made available. The results from your recording of the Queen Edith’s development event in the summer show what an improvement this is:

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