SEJ, J-GROUPS URGE INTERIOR TO LOOSEN LIMITS ON FILMING

October 31, 2007

SEJ and 18 other journalism groups urged the Department of the Interior Oct. 19, 2007, to revise a proposed rule that would keep freelancers and documentarians from covering news in National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and other DOI lands.

Interior proposed the rule Aug. 20, 2007. It codifies some pre-existing rules requiring permits and fees for "commercial filming" activities on many lands administered by the DOI. The groups complained that the rules as now enforced and proposed impose permits and fees on legitimate news-gathering activities.

Joining SEJ in filing the joint comments were the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Radio-Television News Directors Association, National Freedom of Information Coalition, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, National Press Photographers Association, Society of Professional Journalists, Society for News Design, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, National Conference of Editorial Writers, UNITY: Journalists of Color, Inc., National Association of Hispanic Journalists, National Association of Science Writers, National Education Writers Association, Journalism Center on Children & Families, National Federation of Press Women, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc., and the Association of Independents in Radio.

The groups acknowledged the legitimacy of Interior's purpose in the proposed rule - protecting natural and cultural resources in the refuges and parks.

But they said the underlying law, passed in 2000, was to guard against heavy impacts from big, highly commercialized, Hollywood-style productions. The groups complained that Interior had expanded the definition of "commercial filming" to include many things Congress never intended: still photography, sound recording, nature and documentary films, and the gathering of news about resource management issues in the parks and refuges.

The groups urged Interior to make clear that most still photography in parks and refuges was presumed to need no permit, and also to totally exclude sound recording from permits and fees unless it was incidental to big commercial film productions.

Moreover, they urged Interior not to discriminate against freelancers and independent producers, who often do work before they have sold it to news media outlets.

Generally, the groups urged Interior to narrow its definition of "commercial filming" and to broaden its definition of news-gathering to include documentary film and video. They suggested that Interior follow the definition of news-gathering that has evolved over 40 years of legislation and litigation under the Freedom of Information Act.