Editorial: Media should stand together against Greene County policy

Mar. 06, 2014 @ 10:00 AM

An interesting case about public meetings, openness in government and the state’s laws regarding video recording is heating up just a few miles up the road in Greeneville.

WHJL, the Johnson City CBS affiliate, was taken aback this week when the Greene County School Board banned a news crew from filming a board meeting, citing a rarely-used 1997 policy in which the board dictated “The press shall not bring a camera, camcorder or other photographic equipment to board meetings without the consent of the board.”

The case seems to stem from school officials’ disdain for the way the news station had edited or cut sound bites from their meetings for broadcasts related to an alleged bullying of students by school employees. 

The reasoning behind the current enforcement of the ban is moot.

Banning video recording is a bad policy and one that wouldn’t likely survive a judicial decision.

While the Tennessee Open Meetings law itself doesn’t address the video recording of open meetings, it’s unacceptable that a local government in the 21st century would think it a good idea to try to limit the press in an open meeting.

Even MTAS, the Municipal Technical Advisory Service, has warned the governments it advises that such measures aren’t a good idea.

“A complete ban on the use of video cameras in official city council meetings would probably not withstand judicial scrutiny,” MTAS advised one of its client cities in 2002.

Even if their reason or intent for keeping a news camera out of the board meeting room had legitimate merits, such a step — if allowed to go by unchallenged — would almost certainly embolden governing bodies across the state to enact similar restrictions. 

And those restrictions, like any limiting free access to public meetings, documents or the practice of news gathering, should not stand.

The citizens and media of Greene County, no matter how they feel about the Johnson City CBS affiliate, should hold the board accountable for its actions and see to it that the First Amendment is followed.