J-Groups Call on Forest Service To Drop Permit Requirements

December 3, 2014

A coalition of journalism groups is calling on the U.S. Forest Service to make clear in its directives that journalists, documentarians, and media photographers do not need permits to take pictures in National Forest Wilderness or other public lands.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has already signaled his intent to protect the First Amendment rights of still and motion photographers. But the groups are calling on the Forest Service to codify that intention in the Forest Service Handbook. That handbook compiles all the directives through which the Forest Service sets policy for the managers of the many individual forests and other units in its domain.

Congress in 2000 passed a law requiring the Forest Service, Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management to collect fees from "commercial filming" operations — by which it seemed to mean multimillion-dollar Hollywood movies and TV ads. In the years since then, various agencies have sometimes interpreted this to mean that journalists need to get permits and pay fees to report on what is going on in federal parks and forests.

The coalition of at least 18 media groups submitted formal comments recommending specific language in a Forest Service rulemaking on wilderness lands. But they urged the Forest Service to apply that language to all of its lands. Doing that may entail another rulemaking. The Society of Environmental Journalists supported the coalition comments and was active in drafting them.

Groups signing the comments included the following:

American Society of Media Photographers
American Society of News Editors
Associated Press
Associated Press Media Editors
Associated Press Photo Managers
Association of Alternative Newsmedia
Digital Media Licensing Association
National Federation of Press Women
National Newspaper Association
National Press Photographers Association
Newspaper Association of America
Online News Association
Radio Television Digital News Association
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of Environmental Journalists
Society of Professional Journalists
The National Press Club
White House Press Photographers Association

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