SEJ PRESIDENT TESTIFIES AT INTERIOR PHOTO-FEE HEARING

December 12, 2007

The Society of Environmental Journalists told the House Natural Resources Committee Dec. 12 that the Interior Department could unduly restrict news media access to parks and refuges with its proposed rule requiring fees and permits for "commercial filming."

SEJ President Timothy B. Wheeler testified before a full committee oversight hearing called by Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) that a proposed rule governing photography in National Park System units and Wildlife Refuges represents an unwarranted infringement on journalists' ability to cover natural resource issues on public lands.

The witness list at the hearing included Barbara Cochran, director of the Radio and Television News Directors Association; Tony Overman, president of the National Press Photographers Association; Victor S. Perlman, general counsel of the American Society of Media Photographers; Steven Scott, chairman of the Professional Outdoor Media Association; Mitchell J. Butler, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of Interior; and Leslie A.C. Weldon, External Affairs Officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

Cochran told the committee: "Under the guise of Congress' legislation, park officials have positioned themselves to exert an unconstitutional measure of editorial control over news coverage."

Butler, the Interior Deputy for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said, "There is no intention in these proposed regulations for censorship by agencies based on content. In fact, we believe that telling the story of our resources benefits not only our public lands but the visiting public, as well."

Rahall chastised the Bush administration for what he called "open hostility to the public's right to know," and called on Butler to revise the regulation before finalizing it. Butler indicated in his testimony that - in light of complaints from news media groups and Congress, Interior was likely to revise it.