Recording Public Hearings? Let The Sunshine In
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once noted that “[p]ublicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” Transparency, in other words, helps society avoid some of the social ills that could be promoted or concealed by obstruction and secrecy, and as a general matter, public policy should be decided with as many people watching as possible.
That is why I found this story so troubling.
The chair of the Senate General Laws Committee banned video coverage of the final debate and vote of his committee approving a bill that seeks to declare Missouri exempt from some federal gun laws.
Earlier, a reporter for an NBC affiliated television station had his camera physically removed by a Senate staffer from the committee on the second day of hearings on the bill.
The committee chair … had warned TV reporters the week before that he would ban cameras on tripods and restrict access to areas where it would be impossible to get a full view of anyone testifying before the committee.
Only the Senate’s official photographer was allowed to use a tripod at the committee hearing. One reporter holding a camera by hand behind the committee witnesses also was permitted to record video.
Seriously, does this look obstructive to you?
Briefly, as to the bill itself, my view on nullification is well-documented, so I won’t rehash it here. But suffice to say, it is highly problematic that the rules for covering a high-profile bill could reduce public exposure to shaky cam coverage like this.
Our democracy is better than that, and if our public bodies are not going to record these meetings themselves, they should be allowing far greater latitude for the public at large to record them in their stead. Let the sunshine in.