ACLU Criticizes RIPTA for Attempting to Block Video Taping of Open Meeting
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
ACLU of RI is raising concerns over the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authorities (RIPTA) attempt to ban a reporter from recording a public meeting.
The ACLU wrote to RIPTA officials on Tuesday regarding an incident that took place on Monday in which the agency initially attempted to ban journalist Steve Ahlquist from video recording a RIPTA board meeting.
The ACLU letter said that the incident demonstrated “both a disturbing distrust of the press and a woeful lack of regard for the importance” of the Open Meetings Act.
The letter, addressed to RIPTA Board Chair Wayne Kezirian, called on the agency to “take immediate action to ensure that appropriate officials and employees of your agency are reminded of their obligations under the state’s Open Meetings Act.”
The letter noted it has been more than 30 years since a court first ruled that the public had a right to record the meetings of public bodies.
Kezirian responded to the ACLU’s letter and downplayed the events that occurred.
“I inquired of Mr. Pereira whether videotaping (as opposed to audio recording) of our meetings was required to be allowed and he felt it was discretionary. I was not involved in the follow-up discussion with Mr. Ahlquist but did observe that he was approached by Mr. Pereira and took offense. In light of his position the matter was quickly dropped by Mr. Pereira and he was allowed to tape. The entire discussion took perhaps 60 seconds.”
He continued, “RIPTA will continue to allow Mr. Ahlquist (and others, without regard to journalist credentials) to videotape meetings. If Mr. Ahlquist attends future RIPTA meetings, I intend to follow up with him to ask whether he will voluntarily to refrain from videotaping public comment as I believe that presents a barrier for some who may want to be heard at our meetings.”
Ahlquist Responds to RIPTA
“While I appreciate RIPTA Board Chair Wayne Kezirian's response….Public meetings are public for a reason. An announcement at the beginning of the meeting, that the meeting can be recorded by any member of the public for any reason, not just journalism, would provide a way to alert people that they might not want to reveal private details about themselves….Beyond that, the Open Meetings Act is an important law that protects the public.”
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