The decision comes after a letter from The Gulf News was read at the Jan. 25 meeting,
The letter asked council for written documentation proving it has the authority to ban reporters from bringing audio devices to council meetings.
The Gulf News had asked for clarification of council’s policy after learning that reporters at other weekly newspapers in the province were routinely using recorders at council meetings.
After reading The Gulf News’ letter in correspondence at the Jan. 25 meeting, councillors debated the merits of allowing recording devices into council chambers.
Mayor Brian Button noted people who actually take the time to attend council meetings are “few and far between.”
He said it was his understanding that each town council in the province can decide whether or not to allow recorders.
The mayor also expressed concern about people taking snippets of the recording out of context, or even going so far as to alter them to portray councillors in a bad light.
Councillor Rick Farrell also felt recording council would be a problem because of people taking things out of context.
‘I become a sitting duck because of audio if you make a resolution to deny someone a permit,” he said.
Mayor Button said in his calls to other towns, those who said they did allow recording had their own audio recording equipment as well.
Mayor Button said he would not be opposed to allowing recorders if council had its own recording as backup to ensure the audio was not tampered with. He said council had looked at the cost of buying individual microphones and recording equipment in the past, but that the cost was not justified, in his mind.
After the discussion, all councillors agreed to maintain the status quo.
Mayor Button stressed that he does not want this to be portrayed as council not wanting people to know what is happening, because that is not the case.
He said all public meetings are open to the public and minutes from the meeting are available after they are reviewed and accepted by council. Council is considering making them available on the town’s website when it undergoes a redesign that is currently in the works.
Kevin O’Brien, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, declined a request for an interview, but a spokesperson for the department said in an e-mail that every town council does have the discretion to ban recording of council in its rules of procedure.
Dr. Peter Boswell, a retired professor of political science at Memorial University also agreed that council is under no obligation to allow recorders.
“Provided that the council meets the requirements of open meetings and access to information as stipulated under the (Municipalities) Act, they are under no obligation to allow audio or video recordings of their meetings,” wrote Dr. Boswell in an e-mail. “So, while there is nothing in the Act to prevent audio recording, there is nothing in the Act that requires it.”
Barbra Dean Simmons, assistant managing editor for Transcontinental’s weekly Newfoundland papers, said recorders are a reporter’s tool.
“It’s common practice for reporters to use recording devices,” she said. “The use of recorders by reporters at council meetings or any public event is necessary to ensure accuracy of direct quotes and other information.”
She said if for any reason there is dispute over a quote or information in a story, the audio recorder is the final record on the matter.
Other editorial staff from newspapers from around the province said they have not encountered problems with bringing recording devices to public council meetings.
In fact, councils in Gander and Grand Falls Windsor allow local cable stations to videotape and broadcast council meetings.
St. John’s has audio plugs so reporters can hook into the main microphones.
Councils in the three largest Labrador communities of Goose Bay, Labrador City and Wabush allow recorders.
Marystown has its own recording equipment and creates minutes that are essentially transcripts of everything that was said.