Permit Needed to Cover a Forest Fire?
WASHINGTON (CN) - A proposed federal law that would force journalists to get a permit before reporting from public lands appears to have been killed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - killed by partisan bickering, not by First Amendment concerns.
Senate Bill 2362 , The Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2014, set its sights on preserving public land, but when a dispute over gun control amendments broke out in July, Reid filed cloture on the bill before Republican amendments could be added, exposing it to a Republican filibuster.
Lurking beneath the uneasy waters of partisanship lies a First Amendment issue that moved several media groups to draft a letter to senators, urging them to strike a controversial section of the bill.
According to the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), Section 108 of the bill requires news crews to apply for a permit, pay a fee and sit out a two-day waiting period before being allowed access to public lands, "which would severely hamper coverage of breaking news such as wildfires."
The group said the bill also would prevent the media from reporting news about how the federal government manages taxpayer-owned resources.
"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," the letter to the Senate states. "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."
Section 108 states: "For any film crew of 5 persons or fewer, the Secretary shall require a permit and assess an annual fee of $200 for commercial filming activities or similar projects on Federal land and waterways administered by the Secretary."
The RTDNA says the language of the bill amounts to "legislative sleight-of-hand that lulls the public into unawareness of what Congress is doing."
Despite the alarming repercussions for media, the First Amendment concern failed to make its way into congressional debate.
"The dispute centers on issues outside of our purview, but we wanted to be on record against the provision related to the permit proposal, because it would have direct impact on the work journalists do," RTDNA spokesman Derrick Hinds told Courthouse News. "We will continue to monitor the bill and work to get that provision removed if it resurfaces and comes up for a vote."
Democrats also wanted to tack on gun control measures to the bill, but the bill appears to have been killed for this session.
The Society of Environmental Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association and others cosigned the letter to the Senate.
The bill's lead cosponsors are Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.