RTDNA defends the First Amendment in America's statehouses

January 21, 2016 09:00

Despite hundreds of laws on the books at the local, state and federal level which require public records and information be made available to the public, legislatures currently in session in several states are considering bills that would undermine the public's right to know.

In New Jersey and Indiana, lawmakers are attempting to circumvent public records laws in an attempt to conceal video captured on police body cameras or dashboard cameras, audio from 9-1-1 emergency calls and other public data. In Arizona, one proposed bill would prevent anyone from videotaping police actions while standing near the officers.

In Missouri and Virginia, members of the press have been banned from the floor of their state legislatures this year, harming their ability to report on public debate.
And in a stunning attempt to ignore the First Amendment, one South Carolina lawmaker has proposed a bill requiring journalists to be licensed, and face fines or jail time if they write something of which the state does not approve.

The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), which represents journalists in local and network radio, television and digital media, opposes these and similar measures being debated in several statehouses this year. If these bills were to become law, the public's right to know would be severely compromised.

"Our elected leaders and the employees of government institutions work on the people's behalf," said Mike Cavender, Executive Director of RTDNA. "It is only right that the people can observe the process of how their leaders make the laws, review the actions of public employees carrying out those laws, and rely on an independent press to write about public policies and their impact without fear or favor."

Indiana's current public records law states these principles eloquently: "...all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees. Providing persons with the information is an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of public officials and employees, whose duty it is to provide the information."

RTDNA monitors legislatures and courts across the country with the help of its members in all 50 states, and champions First Amendment rights in every branch and at every level of government.

Editors note: Cavender is available to be interviewed about these proposed laws and their potential impact on the press and the people. He can be reached by telephone at 770-622-7011 or by email at mikec@rtdna.org.
RTDNA is the world's leading professional organization devoted exclusively to electronic journalism. RTDNA represents local and network journalists in broadcasting, cable and digital media in more than 30 countries.