Our colleagues at KAAL-TV have lodged a complaint with the Lyle School Board and interim Superintendent Jim Dusso regarding a policy change that keeps TV camera crews pinned down during board meetings.
There's a lot of news to cover, and a TV camera crew often can't stick it out through a long meeting; ditto for reporters at times. Public officials sometimes complain about camera crews at public meetings, but it's generally resolved with polite conversation.
Not in this case. In late September, Dusso sent this letter to local TV news directors:
The position of the Lyle School Board for television coverage of school board meetings is as follows. All cameras must be set up 10 minutes prior to any school board meeting start time in the designated camera area. All camera equipment must stay intact and not be broken down or moved from the designated area until 5 minutes after the school board meeting was adjourned.
It is the position of the school board that the brake (sic) down and moving of cameras during school board meetings can be disruptive and can also create interruptions during the school board meeting. School board meetings are held for the board to conduct its' (sic) business in an open meeting forum, and the board wishes to reduce interruptions during the boards (sic) meeting time.
I'm not aware of another public board in our area that has that restriction; if you do, let me know. Again, news crews need to be as discreet and unobtrusive as possible during public meetings, but journalists need and generally receive wide latitude in covering news events.
As I read this, if a cameraman wants to move to another part of the room to shoot a different view of the meeting, it would be verbotten. That's ridiculous. I can imagine the same policy being used to restrict P-B photographers, who shoot both still photos and video. Reporters also shoot video now, of course. Will they be covered?
Here's a letter that KAAL News Director Mike Schram sent Tuesday to Dusso. We'll get a news story, possibly for Friday, that gets comment from KTTC as well, and perhaps Dusso, though he doesn't return our calls -- yet another problem with the Lyle district's communication with media.
On behalf of KAAL-TV ABC 6 News, I'm writing to lodge our formal objection to the "camera protocol" recently adopted by the Lyle School Board The new policy seems entirely unrelated to any real problems or issues that have been identified, and makes it very difficult for news organizations like ours to adequately cover the meetings and proceedings of the board.
I am concerned that you developed this policy without consultation from media organizations like KAAL-TV. It is our position that all news media should have the same free movement in and out of meeting rooms and in all publicly accessible areas to cover governmental bodies like the Lyle School Board as the rest of the public. The purposes of state and federal open meetings laws is to protect the media's rights to cover public bodies doing the public's business without these types of burdensome restrictions. We strongly disagree that setting up or taking down cameras during a meeting causes serious disruption. And I hope you understand that news coverage is of interest to our viewers -- many of whom are your constituents. The worst of the impact inflicted by the new policy therefore falls on them.
We have also consulted with our attorney about the new camera policy. He informs us that it almost certainly violates state law, including the Minnesota Open Meeting Law, because it unreasonably restricts the ability of the news media to provide coverage of public school board meetings.
We would therefore ask that the current policy be rescinded not later than Dec. 12, 2011. If you would like our input as to what an appropriate and legally valid media coverage policy might look like, we would be happy to provide it. In any event, I emphasize that this (is) an important issue for us, and that if the board fails to remedy the current policy soon, we will strongly consider taking further action.
We agree and we'll contact the Lyle district today to support Mike's letter. If you're in agreement, you might want to contact the Lyle district also: James Dusso, Schools Superintendent, Lyle Public Schools, 700 Second St., Lyle, MN 55953.