MAYOR VINCENT C. Gray’s administration has organized an “Executive Media Skills Seminar” for the city’s agency heads and senior staff. The goal for Friday’s event is to “build effective working relationships between reporters and government agency directors.” Here’s a tip: Try not to arrest people who are covering a public meeting.
Just such a distasteful event happened at Wednesday’s meeting of the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Blogger Pete Tucker of thefightback.org and Jim Epstein of Reason TV were placed in handcuffs and charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful entry/remaining after a dispute with commission members and staff about recording and photographing the proceedings. Dena Reed, interim chairwoman of the commission, released a statement saying she had nothing to do with the arrests, that they were the decision of the U.S. Park Police, whose Anacostia headquarters were the setting for Wednesday’s meeting. Calls placed to the Park Police — whose officers also barred people, including a Post columnist, from reentering the meeting — were not returned.
Little wonder neither side wants to step up to the plate and claim responsibility. An account of the meeting by The Post’s John Kelly and a Reason TV video posted on YouTube depict two men who — far from being disorderly — were simply trying to record and photograph the session. It’s troubling that the commission finds these activities “disruptive,” has tried to ban them and felt the need to summon the police for someone taking a picture with a cellphone and placing a voice recorder on a podium. Consider, as the National Press Photographers Association Inc. wrote to the commission protesting its actions, that “in Egypt, Syria and Libya citizens and photojournalists have risked, and in some cases given, their lives to provide visual proof of governmental activities. It is truly a shame that what is viewed abroad as heroic is considered as suspect at home.” The group reports it has seen a rash of similar incidents across the country.
The District’s open-meetings law is silent on whether photography or recordings are permitted, but surely it shouldn’t take a court order for the public and media to exercise basic free speech and free press rights. And, if any agency needs more sunlight, it is the chronically troubled cab commission. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, who is investigating the incident, sensibly told reporters he believes these meetings should be open and subject to recordings as long as they’re done in a manner that doesn’t disturb the proceedings. That should be the end of this matter, in addition, we hope, to dropping the charges against Mr. Tucker and Mr. Epstein.