OPEN MEETINGS -- An official from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative announced yesterday that he would finally allow the filming and audio recording of “work sessions” of the widely-contested process, reports Dan Bacher for AlterNet.org.
This victory for freedom of the press was made possible only because of the large outcry from David Gurney and other North Coast journalists, environmentalists, fishermen and civil liberties advocates about the MLPA’s violation of the Bagley-Keene Act and the First Amendment.
A May 13 letter, sent by the editors of the Independent Coast Observer of Gualala to MLPA executive director Ken Wiseman to protest the MLPA Initiative policy that prohibited audio or video recording and photography at these sessions, prompted the rescinding of the policy.
“This policy banning such recordings is a violation of the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act,” stated J. Stephen McLaughlin, Editor and Publisher, and D. Glenn O’Hara, News Editor, in their letter to Wiseman. “We hereby request the policy be rescinded.”
“According to California Newspaper Publishers Assn. General Counsel Jim Ewert, because of the Memorandum of Understanding, the MLPAI is performing functions which would otherwise be done by state agencies, which makes it subject to Bagley-Keene,” the letter stated. “Bagley-Keene applies to all meetings and workshops of the MLPAI.”
In his response, Wiseman continued to claim that the process, funded by the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, is not covered by Bagley-Keene, but said he would allow recording of “work sessions” of the group “within the spirit and language” of Bagley-Keene anyway.
“Although our legal counsel is in disagreement with yours as to whether or not our process is covered by Bagley-Keene, the MLPA Initiative has always sought to exceed the requirements of the law by having the most open and transparent process available,” said Wiseman. “Although we are certain that a non-quorum work session is clearly not covered by the law, we will allow recording and videotaping at the upcoming work sessions so that such a minor issue does not become a distraction to the important work at hand.”
“We will allow these activities within the spirit and language of Bagley-Keene, which states ‘unless to do so would constitute a persistent disruption,’” added Wiseman. “The public and the press have always been and will continue to be welcome at our meetings and work sessions.”
Gurney, who was arrested while filming an April 21 meeting of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force Meeting in Fort Bragg, was turned down in his formal request to record the upcoming NCRSG public meeting/workshop this week. Gurney is a freelance journalist and community programmer with Mendocino Community Television MCTV, Fort Bragg, a community journalist with KMUD radio in Redway, and an independent journalist with Jugglestone Productions.
Wiseman’s latest letter represents a reversal of the previous policy of the MLPA that was outlined in a news release. “To help create a ’safe space’ for NCRSG members to explore MPA ideas, the public will not be permitted to videotape, audiotape or take pictures of work group discussions during the work sessions,” the release stated. “Accredited media interested in covering an NCRSG work session must receive prior permission from the MLPA Initiative media relations team.”
The MLPAI staff have claimed that the initiative, funded by the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation in a memorandum of understanding with the state of California, is exempt from the state’s open meeting laws. However, newspaper industry and civil liberties attorneys say the restrictions on speech and comment violate the Bagley-Keene Act and probably the California Constitution.
The Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act of 1967 implements a provision of the California Constitution which declares that “the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny” and explicitly mandates open meetings for California State agencies, boards, and commissions.