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House measure would overturn right for witnesses to bar cameras

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House measure would overturn right for witnesses to bar cameras 11/17/97 WASHINGTON, D.C.--The U.S. House of Representatives Rules Committee in…

House measure would overturn right for witnesses to bar cameras

11/17/97

WASHINGTON, D.C.–The U.S. House of Representatives Rules Committee in early November voted to repeal the House’s rule that allows subpoenaed witnesses to request that cameras and microphones be removed from public hearings.

The committee voted 7-2 to sent the resolution to the full House, which could vote on the issue in mid-November.

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, called the committee’s vote “a tremendous victory for radio and television journalists” as well as “a public victory since most Americans rely on the broadcast media as their primary source of information.”

The rule’s origin can be traced back to 1957, when William Sherwood, a cancer researcher, committed suicide two days before he was to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. According to The Washington Post, Sherwood wrote in his suicide note that “he had a ‘fierce resentment of being televised’ and was about to be ‘assassinated by publicity.'”

After the House was sued by Sherwood’s widow, then-speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Tex.) granted subpoenaed witnesses the right to exclude cameras. The rule was formalized in 1970.

Although it is rarely invoked, the rule was used in October by relatives and friends of Charlie Trie in the investigation of possible 1996 campaign finance abuses.

Several House Democrats say repealing the privilege would be “dangerous.”

In a statement before the Rules Committee, Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) said “If passed, the changes of the rules of the House of Representatives would trample on the rights of individuals and, in an extreme instance, potentially lead to someone’s death.” (H.R. 301)