Thursday, March 28, 2013

Media Crackdown Proposed by Council

It may turn out to be coincidental timing, but last weeks elimination of TV coverage for the Bloomfield's annual Budget planning meeting, turned out to be a prelude to a laundry list of new restrictions on coverage of council meetings.

The planned changes appear to have originated from a complaint by the Mayor regarding the use of cell phones to send text messages during meetings. Some councilmen were even accused of texting each other.

The proposed new rules will make it significantly more difficult for attendees to use audio, still, and video media to document both conference and regular meetings whether they be residents or journalists. Rule number 1 has sparked the greatest concern:
The citizen must provide the Clerk of the municipality with no less than 30 minutes verbal notice prior to the Meeting of his intention to exercise his right to videotape or photograph the Meeting. Failure to provide advance notice of the intent to utilize the equipment prior to each Meeting shall preclude its use at such Meeting.
 Other restrictions include limited the use of such devices to the last 2 rows of Council Chambers, not allowing photographers to move from their initial position during the meeting to get a better angle, and not allowing audio recordings to be transcribed for any purpose. Perhaps the most sweeping and vague rule declares that:
no photographs may be taken or audio/videotape recordings made within a public facility of any person, place or event relating to the administration and/or conduct of official municipal business.
This seems to suggest that no public official could be interviewed or photographed ANYWHERE for ANY reason. At last weeks conference meeting the township attorney Brian Aloia maintained that he was adhering to the guidelines of NJ's Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) The unfortunate reality is that there are still many grey areas in the act that continue to be interpreted the courts.

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