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The House of Lords shows itself – again – to be the most thoughtful and progressive chamber in a new report ‘Are the Lords listening? Creating connections between people and Parliament’ from its Information Committee.
Parliament has some really daft rules against use of video of proceedings, which it has been extremely slow in changing. Leading the charge against this has been LibDem MP Jo Swinson.
The Lords new report backs Swinson’s campaign to free up reuse of video and – hurrah! – backs embedding and republication.
42. ‘Embedding’ is the process whereby a document or file of one type is inserted into a document or file of another type on the internet. Embedding is central to much use of multimedia in web pages, which tend to embed video, animation, and audio files. In our Annual Report 2007-08, we reported the growing number of people asking to embed parliamentary material (such as video footage of proceedings) into their own web sites. Such embedding would, for instance, allow other web sites to include windows within their web pages so that clips of parliamentary proceedings could play within their own pages instead of having to open a separate window and application to view the clips. Under the terms of the current licences, the Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit Limited (PARBUL) cannot allow any of its licensees to offer embedding. Peter Lowe of Sky News found it “extraordinary” that Parliament did not allow embedding (Q 311).
43. The BBC asked Parliament to change this policy so that it could include footage from Westminster in its ‘Democracy Live’ website, which would also include footage from the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the European Parliament (QQ 308-09, 314; p84). Last year, we called for further research to be carried out on allowing embedding of footage of parliamentary proceedings. During our inquiry, it was made clear to us that embedding would allow wider access to parliamentary proceedings through websites and other channels (pp 16, 143). Peter Riddell, Political Commentator and Assistant Editor of The Times, said that it would be “a tremendous help” to journalists preparing articles online (Q 191). Channel 4 said that enabling users “to embed clips on their own sites, and then use social bookmarking tools to promote these clips to others, is an effective and low-cost way of expanding the reach of Parliament—as the easier it is to spread information the more people will see it” (p 104). Jo Swinson MP told the Committee: “we need to wake up and get into the twenty-first century on this. If we can actually get clips of Parliament out there, particularly in two or three-minute pieces which are easy to watch, easy to forward to friends, that is a much better way and a much easier way for people to understand what is going on in Parliament than having to watch the BBC Parliament channel for hours on end until something they might be interested in comes up.”
44. People should be allowed to embed the House’s proceedings on their websites, so that our proceedings can have as wide a distribution as possible on the internet. We recommend that a trial start as soon as possible. We have invited the BBC and the House of Lords administration to bring forward proposals for how the House can maximise potential synergies with the BBC’s forthcoming ‘Democracy Live’ website.
Yay! The irony here though is how slow the BBC has been with the option to embed on its video. There does seem to be a lot of internal resistance and only some news video is embeddable. What’s bizarre is that you can find loads of BBC news video on YouTube, which they don’t police.
As well, people are getting iplayer content and reusing it, here’s how to get the iplayer embed code. That’s not being policed either.
Here’s what the Lords says about Parliament and YouTube
38. In May 2008 Parliament launched a YouTube channel, which it uses primarily to show short films promoting and explaining the work of Parliament. The Hansard Society praised the videos about the work of the House of Lords (p 13). We used YouTube throughout our inquiry, to update people outside Westminster on what had happened during our meetings and to provide an insight into the views of witnesses and members of the Committee. In June 2009, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and the European Union Committee released videos on YouTube to mark the publication of their reports.
39. We also used Parliament’s YouTube channel in our inquiry to allow people to contribute by submitting their views on video. Dr Jackson said that this development was “very exciting”: the fact that members of the public can upload videos gives the channel the potential to be “a powerful interactive instrument” (p 139). Parliament would benefit from the interactive nature of such websites, by treating them not simply as publishers and distributors but as places where user-generated content can be created and displayed.
40. Members of either House are allowed to post footage featuring the member on the member’s own website. However, at present, the two Houses do not allow parliamentary proceedings to be posted on YouTube or any other third-party hosting website. This ban has attracted negative publicity; and Parliament has been criticised for not embracing new technology. Last November, we agreed that Lords be allowed to place on YouTube (and similar searchable video hosting websites) clips of their contributions to the House’s proceedings. The final administrative and legal steps around copyright are being taken, and the Committee will inform members when they can start to upload their contributions to YouTube. Technical training will be provided for members who wish to take advantage of this new possibility.