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Council / No blockbuster viewing figures for SIC meetings – but a steady stream of interest

Then convener Malcolm Bell chairs the first council meeting in the new chamber at St Ringan's church earlier this year. Photo: SIC

FULL council sessions have been the most popular in terms of viewing figures since SIC meetings began being broadcast live on the internet in September.

But one recent development committee meeting saw just 14 people tune in live.

Shetland Islands Council leader Emma Macdonald said it was important that “people can see and understand the decisions that the council makes”.

Since 6 September Shetland Islands Council has broadcast its main meetings live online from the new St Ringan’s chamber in a bid to improve accessibility to local democracy. 

The video is then archived, meaning people can watch it anytime.

There is also the ability to skip to each item on the agenda in the video, or even to a certain speaker during a particular section – not always helped though if a councillor forgets to turn their microphone on.

Shetland News has obtained viewing figures for all live broadcast meetings to date through a freedom of information request and they paint a varied picture.

As of Friday (25 November) there had been 1,167 views across the ten broadcast meetings. Nearly 500 were live views, and 669 were post-meeting.

A full council meeting on 28 September attracted 112 live views during the meeting, as well as 121 archive hits, making it the most-watched session so far.

It is perhaps unclear what made it so popular, but among the topics discussed by councillors were plans for overhead power lines, cost of living contingency planning, short term lets licensing and a possible new Brae school.

A full council meeting on 23 November, which included motions on free public transport and universal school meals, has already registered 143 views in total.

The novelty of the new broadcasting system, meanwhile, has seen the first meeting – the education and families committee on 6 September – attract a total of 199 views to date.

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But some other meetings have not attracted as many; the development committee on 8 November has only had 35 views in total (14 live and 21 archive) while environment and transport the next day has had 52 (29 live and 23 archive).

It is important to note that council meetings take place during working hours, so live broadcasts will not fit into everyone’s schedule.

Macdonald said she is not sure if the council has reached expected levels of viewing figures, but she recognised the convenience of being able to replay meetings back.

The leader also feels that the public having a closer eye on how local government works could have long-term benefits.

“I appreciate that meetings can be long, and people have limited time, so the ability to search for the item you are interested in is helpful,” she added.

“I would hope access to local democracy in action will encourage more people to consider standing in the future. 

“I know it seems a long way off, but it goes very quickly, and I think being able to view meetings will help people understand more about the process.”

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee earlier this month, legal chief Jan Riise said it was expected that figures would tail off after initial interest.

He said that prior to online broadcasts “virtually nobody witnessed a council meeting unless they made a special effort to come into the chamber”.

In the Covid pandemic the council did introduce YouTube uploads of certain meetings after they had finished, but they were taken from Microsoft Teams and did not enjoy the same audio and visual quality of the new videos.

Meanwhile anyone who is interested in witnessing the action in person is still able to take a seat in the St Ringan’s chamber, the former library building. The schedule of council meetings is published online.

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