SOURCE: Society of Professional Journalists

October 30, 2007 15:07 ET

Society of Professional Journalists Signs Letter Opposing Department of Interior Commercial Filming Proposal

INDIANAPOLIS, IN--(Marketwire - October 30, 2007) - The Society of Professional Journalists and 18 journalism-advocacy organizations signed onto an October 19th letter last week opposing Department of Interior attempts to codify agency rules on photography, filming and sound-recording on the public lands it administers.

According to Regulations.gov, The Department of the Interior is seeking to revise filming regulations by implementing legislation that would require fees for commercial filming activities or similar projects, such as still photography, and to respond to applicants for commercial filming or still photography permits in a timely manner.

"Public land should be safeguarded, but the rules the department is seeking to codify simply go too far," SPJ National President Clint Brewer said. "These regulations should invite documentation and journalistic coverage of public land, not discourage it."

Although current agency policy exempts "news coverage" from permit requirements, only "breaking" or "spot" news such as a wildfires or presidential photo opportunities are referenced as being exempt in agency documentation. Although the current proposal is not a drastic shift in policy, it attempts to compromise the work of journalists because it allows representatives from the National Park Service, the Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management to determine what is considered newsworthy, and who is considered a journalist. Additionally, the proposal would allow the governing agency to charge fees for commercial filming.

"Government agencies and bureaucrats should not be allowed to decide for the public what is and is not worthy of news coverage," Brewer added. "What kind of message does it send that the First Amendment rights are being impeded on land owned by the public?"

Citing strong concern over violations of First Amendment rights that guarantee a free press, the journalism groups have developed the following questions and answers to help other journalists and members of the public further understand the proposed policy:

--  Is documentary a form of news? The proposal allows agencies to say
    "no."
--  Are freelancers representatives of the news media? Agencies can say
    "no."
--  Are independent producers and production companies news media?
    Agencies can say "no."
--  Can public radio reporters interview park staff or record wolf calls?
    The rule allows parks to require a permit, even though the law gives it no
    authority to do so.
--  Do still photographers with handheld cameras need permits? The rule
    allows a park service employee to deny permission to photograph if he/she
    deems the photography "inappropriate."
    

The public comment period is now closed and a hearing will be scheduled before a final ruling is made. Because no date has been scheduled for the public hearing, SPJ leaders are encouraging journalists and members of the public to voice their concerns by writing to:

Department of Interior/National Park Service
Attn: Lee Dickinson, Special Park Uses Program Manager
National Park Service
1849 C St., NW, ORG CODE 2460
Washington, DC 20240

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For further information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.

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