Wollongong council baulks at webcast

Councillor Jill Merrin
Councillor Jill Merrin

A decision not to broadcast Wollongong council meetings live over the internet would be a backwards step for transparency, Greens councillor Jill Merrin said yesterday.

The city's councillors next week will consider a report that recommends they shelve the idea of webcasting council meetings due to the costs and legal risks.

According to the report, it would cost up to $57,000 to set up the required technology and a further $21,600 each year to operate it.

While such a move would boost the "perception" of transparency, it would also increase the risk of potentially costly defamation actions against councillors and the council, the report said.

Cr Merrin yesterday said she was "surprised and saddened" at the conclusion.

"It goes against a lot of the statements that councillors made before they were elected about increasing levels of transparency," she said. Shellharbour council already streams its meetings and keeps an archive on its website.

Wollongong staff contacted Shellharbour and other local governments that broadcast meetings about how much the services cost and how many people tuned in.

The results showed a relatively slow uptake, with about 30 to 40 average viewers in Shellharbour and fewer at smaller councils.

In the larger Gold Coast City Council, however, an average of 150 people viewed each council meeting broadcast.

Debate on whether Wollongong should take the tech-savvy path promises to be lively after several councillors yesterday took opposing views.

Liberal John Dorahy reiterated his support for the idea and said those people who did watch were likely to be "keenly interested" in the council's activities.

Independent Greg Petty said: "I don't think the cost can be justified until we see a packed council chamber of people interested enough wanting to attend."

Labor's Chris Connor said the council should consider broadcasting parts of its meetings when enough people had pre-registered an interest in particular matters.

He also wanted further community consultation on the matter.

Cr Merrin said the legal issues in the report were "astounding" and she wanted more information about defamation actions against other councils.