By Greg Price
I’m still scratching my head a bit on what seems on the surface, some of town council’s aversion towards entering the world of social media for its constituents.
The town has been steering towards a ‘more open communications plan’ since November which included discussion at council’s Nov. 28 meeting on live streaming meetings, along with a handful of other options in being more transparent to the public.
It seemed to all be going in the right direction overall until some comments were made by some on council at its Feb. 13 meeting and encompassed in Trevor Busch’s article ‘Town council investigating communication options with public’ story published earlier this month.
If transparency is something council is trying to achieve, I think some are looking at it the wrong way according to some comments from the Feb. 13 meeting by three different members on council.
1. “I’m not in favour of doing this. If you get stuff out on live video, or access to it, the little segments they could cut out of each meeting and repeat, repeat, repeat… I’m not really in favour of it. I think the way we’re doing it now is working pretty good. Once you get it out there, it’s out there forever, and they can make some pretty funny videos out of something very simple. I’m looking at our reporter over here, and I think he’s smiling thinking of the fun people could have making videos that they could post to the Internet.”
2. “Crazy things happen with things that are on social media. They can take it out of context and do whatever they want with it. Yes, people of the Town of Taber have a right to know what’s going on inside these council chambers. We supply minutes, people can get minutes.”
3. “It’s the same with just the regular newspapers, people make up opinions on what’s published, so it’s a danger everywhere.”
OK, let’s take the worst-case scenario and say the Taber Times had this dastardly plan to cut and splice and creatively edit a live stream of a council meeting to make council look ‘funny’ or inept etc. (hint, we don’t have the time to do so anyway). Would not a live stream of the meeting in its entirety be the perfect defence to show people if media or people in the public took things out of context? Is that not the most bullet-proof of evidence if media or the public is making up ‘fake news’ or taking things out of context?
The implication is that people are making opinions based on false or misleading information published in newspapers or as another councillor noted ‘you can’t believe everything that’s written’ when negative comments were noted towards M.D. of Taber projects back in 2016. But once again, would not the evidence from recorded video in a meeting show if words said in a meeting match up with words published in newspapers? It’s much easier to say media (in which newspaper media using audio recorders in meetings) make up fake news with no video evidence to prove the claim to be either true or false to back up that claim.
Unless something is published in its absolute entirety, anything can technically be taken out of context. There are only so many column inches afforded in newspapers. Even council minutes can be taken out of context. They can state what decisions were made, but rarely is any of the discussion or reasoning of how that decision was arrived at found in very brief minutes.
What live streaming and other forms of social media would offer town council is the transparency they seek.
Town communications co-ordinator Meghan Brennan hit the nail on the head, too, that it offers a measure of control over the message that reaches the eyes and ears of residents as well.
If council is worried about ‘tone’ in how some information is delivered, would not a live video of the council meeting allow a resident another option to decide what the perceived ‘tone’ was for themselves?
If anything increases the free flowing of information that affects the community, us newspaper types are completely for it, as many different forms are needed be it print, video or audio to reach as many people as necessary. A more informed opinion can be made when as much information that is possible is allowed.
Can there be drawbacks to it? Of course, but those things can be monitored or enforced in the court of law if things really go south.
The Taber Police Service has its own Facebook Page that has rules of conduct.
If people do not follow those rules, there are consequences of being blocked etc. Mayor Henk DeVlieger seems to be one the most receptive people on council to opening the institution to the world of social media based on comments from late 2016 to now and has made himself his own mayor Facebook page with election season looming in the fall.
Perhaps little steps need to be taken for now as town council has agreed to conduct a community survey to gauge the level of public interest in various communications options being considered by the town.
But make no mistake, forward steps need to be taken when it comes to democracy where as much transparency as possible with the decision makers on the future of the town should be one of its biggest pillars.
Short of it being seen as too costly or time prohibitive to pursue, I cannot fathom how more transparency is a bad thing.