The Attorney General in Arkansas issued an opinion letter ruling on Monday confirming that a city council in the state did not have the right to ban video recordings of public meetings.
The Associated Press is reporting that the White River Current newspaper sought an official opinion from the AG’s office after the local city council in Calico Rock banned recordings from its meetings. The newspaper had posted council meeting videos on YouTube.
Three questions were posed to the AG, including
1) whether or not the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act granted citizens a right to make a video recording of a public meeting of elected officials?
2) whether a claim that recording is “disruptive” because a council member is uncomfortable being recorded, sufficient reason to ban recording.
3) whether or not the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants citizens the right to record public officials in performance of their duties.
A: No- the First Amendment does not grant peopel the right to make a tape recording of a public meeting.
In an eleven page opinion, the AG said, in summary:
When one reads the FOIA broadly to foster greater openness and more disclosure—as we are required to do—I believe there are good grounds to conclude that our FOIA affords persons the right to videotape a public meeting. According to my research, this also accords with the law in the overwhelming majority of states. But, in response to your second question, the right to videotape a public meeting is subject to the public body’s reasonable regulation. While such regulation cannot ban videotaping, the regulation can ensure that the activity is done in a manner that does not disrupt the meeting. In my view, the mere fact that a member of the public body is uncomfortable being filmed is not a sufficient reason to ban the videotaping. When it comes to videotaping public meetings, the FOIA appears to give greater rights than does the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because—in response to your third question—the amendment does not give people a right to videotape public proceedings.
The opinion is loaded with interesting case law and citations to various state FOI decisions. See in particular footnotes on page 3, for an analysis of various states and the right to record public meetings, with citations to rules expressly permitting recording in Indiana, South Carolina and Kentucky. The opinion can be found at this link.
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