Cities can bar cameras from council meetings, A.G. says
TENNESSEE–The state’s attorney general in early October said that cities may exclude cameras from their board meetings.
An opinion issued in early October by Tennessee Attorney General Charles W. Burson declares that a city may pass an ordinance banning cameras from municipal board meetings and remain within the bounds of both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Tennessee’s open meetings act.
The opinion, which condones the exclusion of any “camera, camcorder or other photographic equipment” from board meetings, cites a 1986 ruling from a federal District Court in Tyler, Texas holding that such prohibitions do not violate the First Amendment.
Likening city board meetings to judicial proceedings, Burson noted that “the courts have found no First Amendment right to televise a civil trial sufficient to override a rule of court prohibiting television cameras in courtrooms.”
Interpreting the state’s open meetings act, which is silent on the issue of cameras in city board meetings, the opinion states, “We do not find any provisions in the open meetings act … which would prevent a governing body from regulating the conduct of its meetings, provided that such regulation does not result in the exclusion of members of the press and the public.”
In a footnote to the opinion, Buson withdrew part of a 1977 Tennessee attorney general’s opinion that upheld the right of radio and television stations to “broadcast public governmental meetings as long as the broadcast does not cause an unreasonable interference with that governmental body in performing its governmental duties.” (Tenn. A.G. Opinion No. 95-101)