Text of SEJ Letter to Senators Re Sportmen's Act Impact on Public Lands Reporting

July 8, 2014

Dear Senator,

As the Senate considers S 2363, the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2014, we want to express our grave objections to inclusion of Section 108 ("Annual Permit And Fee For Film Crews Of 5 Persons Or Fewer.") This provision directly threatens the Constitutionally protected First Amendment right of a free press to gather news.

Organizations objecting to this provision include the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association, the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the American Society of Media Photographers.

We urge you to amend the bill by striking the entirety of Section 108, so that the issue of media access to public lands can be thoughtfully considered and any problems with media access to public lands can be addressed with carefully drafted legislation. Not only does the current Section 108 threaten to cut off news media access to public lands, but is so sloppily drafted that it could have other unpredictable and harmful results.

It has long been established practice that news media have unfettered access to public lands to report important natural resources stories, to the extent consistent with the government's conservation mission and the enjoyment of the resource by others. A television news crew should not need a permit and a two-day waiting period to report on a wildfire racing across a National Forest unit. As currently drafted, Section 108 could prevent the media and the public from getting news about how federal government agencies are managing these taxpayer-owned and -funded resources.

To detail the flaws of Section 108 more specifically:

  • It requires permits and fees for news-gathering on federal lands
  • It contains no explicit exemption from fee-and-permit requirements for news media
  • It does not define, and makes no attempt to define, "commercial filming." Precisely what is "commercial" is left open to arbitrary interpretation
  • It applies to "filming," but does not define that term in any way, leaving digital video, among other media subject to complete uncertainty
  • It includes vague and general language subject to unpredictable interpretation ("commercial filming activities or similar projects ")
  • The 48-hour advance notice requirement would keep news media from covering breaking news
  • It does not resolve the underlying vague, overly broad and uncertain language of Public Law 106-206 itself, or the implementing regulations
  • It provides the possible imposition of arbitrary and capricious authority to deny meaningful press access under a finding that “the activity poses health or safety risks to the public.”

If Section 108 is allowed to remain in the bill as passed by the Senate, it could be matched in conference with even more harmful language that is in a bill (HR 2798, H. Rept. 113-335, Part 1) reported by the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Section 108 is not germane to the purpose of the underlying bill, which is to increase sportsmen's access to public lands. To include it in the bill would amount to legislative sleight-of-hand that lulls the public into unawareness of what Congress was doing.

We urge you to amend S 2363 by striking Section 108.

Sincerely,

 

Beth Parke, Director, Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ)
Joseph A. Davis, Director, SEJ WatchDog Project
David Cuillier, National President, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)
Mickey H. Osterreicher, General Counsel, National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)
Charles W. L. ("Chip") Deale, CAE, Executive Director, NPPA
Mike Cavender, Executive Director, Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA)
Bruce D. Brown, Executive Director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP)
Victor S. Perlman, General Counsel and Managing Director, American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP)

 


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