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Bill bans live news broadcasts of police standoffs

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    NMU         OREGON         Newsgathering         Mar 13, 2001    

Bill bans live news broadcasts of police standoffs

  • A voluntary agreement between broadcasters and police is being turned into a law that carries criminal penalties for shooting unapproved footage during hostage standoffs.

Proposed legislation in Oregon would allow law enforcement agencies to impose a no-fly zone on news helicopters in an area where police are deployed. The bill would also prohibit live broadcasts of the scene.

Senate Bill 615, introduced on Feb. 12 at the request of the Oregon Council of Police Associations is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under the proposal, police officials would establish a boundary around areas where police conduct tactical operations. Confrontations that endanger police and the public, such as hostage situations, would warrant restricted access. News helicopters would be prohibited from flying within one mile of the boundary.

The television stations in Portland and police had previously reached an agreement not to fly too close to the emergency area.

Sponsored by state Sens. John Minnis and Ryan Decker and state Rep. Karen Minnis, the bill grants the state the authority to prosecute offenders of the unwritten, voluntary agreement. Violators would be held liable for any related damage, injury or death and face a maximum penalty of $10,000.

A spokesman for Minnis said violations of the current agreement necessitated the bill, and he said the media will have the opportunity to testify at a public hearing. No hearing has been scheduled, but the spokesman said committee members have expressed support for the bill.

Bill Johnstone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters, said the association will continue to oppose the bill and that he, along with television news directors, will meet with Minnis on March 15.

The conflict between law enforcement’s attempts to apprehend suspects and the media’s need to report the news peaked in 1998, when police blamed the media for a botched drug raid.

During the incident, Steven Dons shot three police officers, killing officer Colleen Waibel. Media helicopters did not arrive at the scene until after the shootings, but police later argued that their attempts to apprehend Dons were stilted by four television news helicopters that aired live coverage of the subsequent standoff, which they allege may have alerted Dons about the officers’ location outside of his home.

(S.B. 615) ML

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