Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s office sent a press release to local media last Monday announcing a meeting to review designs for a planned Omni Hotel.
No big deal, right?
Strange then, that not only was the meeting set to take place in less than an hour, the press release read, “No cameras (still or video) are allowed in the meeting.”
Bill Shory, the news director of the local NBC affiliate, WAVE News, called the mayor’s spokesman, Chris Poynter, to object to that rule.
In his editorial, Shory said:
And I objected again in person as the meeting began. Both times, Mr. Poynter refused to budge, and told us that if we didn’t agree to the rules, we couldn’t cover the event. Limiting media coverage of an open meeting and threatening to exclude those who don’t acquiesce is not only alarming, it’s against Kentucky law.
PINAC got in touch with Poynter on Tuesday, who had this to say:
“Yesterday’s event was a briefing for the media and forum for reporters to see the design enhancements and ask questions prior to the Downtown Development Review Overlay meeting, which is set for 8:30 am Wednesday.
The briefing was for all reporters and it was entirely on-the-record, and economic development staff and the leader of The Downtown Partnership conducted on-camera interviews to answer questions. In addition, the architectural renderings were provided both physically and electronically during the meeting.
The county attorney has advised that no open meetings laws were violated with regard to this press briefing. This briefing is similar to those in which we allow the media to meet with experts so the full context of issues is understood — similar to what we do with the city budget each year. We will certainly be mindful of media concerns in the future.”
While it is nice of Poynter to promise to “be mindful of media concerns,” what he should be mindful of is the law. A public meeting is by definition public, and not an exception from the public’s right to record. The meeting itself may not have been important – but the precedent set by not objecting to an illegal “camera ban” is.
As Bill Shory said:
“The rollout of the Omni Hotel plans won’t make or break democracy. I went to the event, and I can tell you, there was no part of it that wouldn’t have been safe for television. I don’t think Monday’s decision was made for nefarious purposes, and the mayor’s office has generally been reasonable about this sort of thing in the past. But all of that is beside the point.
As we saw today, once we get word of a camera ban, it’s essentially too late to do anything about it. So if we don’t object now, it will happen again. And the next time, the cameras may not be allowed to show something that you desperately need to see. “
Shory also fired off a letter to the mayor, which you can read below or here on a PDF.