Whilst the availability of better and cheaper technology has made the question more pertinent, it isn’t a new question. It was one which was debated in the old Vale of Glamorgan Borough Council back in the 1980s, when I was a member of that council.
The ruling group at the time (Tories, as it happens, but it could equally have been the other lot) wanted to bar the recording of meetings and proposed a resolution to achieve that – banning the use of ‘recording instruments’. It was aimed at the press, rather than the public – the idea that the public might want to record their goings on would have seemed more than a little strange to them.
When it was debated, I rose to my hind legs, brandished my biro non-aggressively, and announced that I was holding a ‘recording instrument’ in my hand. Were they, I asked, going to ban the use of biros in the Chamber as well? The motion was hastily amended to refer to, as I recall, ‘mechanical recording instruments’, and despite my own continued objections was duly passed.
The arguments for banning the practice then were much the same as they are now – and they have grown no more valid with the passing of time. Despite what some councillors claim, it is no easier to quote someone out of context using a voice recorder than it is using a biro – but at least in the one case there’s a record to demonstrate whether it was, or was not, out of context.
There is an expressed fear about being misquoted, but I rather suspect that the fear is about not being misquoted.
I don’t think that I was the most articulate and coherent speaker in the council chamber (although I’m immodest enough to claim that I wasn’t the most inarticulate either), and anyone who does a lot of public speaking will be only too aware that sometimes things can come out not quite as intended. I was often misquoted by the local press for things I’d said in the Council Chamber – but here’s the thing: what appeared in print was invariably an improvement on what I’d actually said. All hesitations and slips ups were miraculously removed by the local journos in the interests of creating a readable story.
Could it just be the case that some councillors in Carmarthenshire (unnamed to protect the potentially guilty) are actually more worried about not being misquoted?