New law will restrict media access to air disaster information
WASHINGTON, D.C.–President Clinton in early October signed into law a measure that will limit media access to information at aviation disasters and establish a commission to recommend ways to limit media contact with family members.
The Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996, primarily designed to ensure that family members of victims of airline disasters are given up-to-date and accurate information on search and rescue operations, calls for the creation of a task force to recommend ways to ensure that journalists and attorneys do not “intrude on the privacy of families of passengers involved in an aircraft accident.”
Under the act, which is part of a broader spending reauthorization bill, the National Transportation Safety Board’s coordinator and a designated independent relief organization are required to obtain passenger lists and other information from the airlines, and the airlines are required to notify family members before publicly releasing information from the list. The NTSB official and the relief organization are barred from releasing any information from the passenger list to anyone else, including the news media.
The act also requires the NTSB to ensure that families are briefed about elements of accidents, including causes and other developments, before the media or public are informed.
Another new provision states that the designated organization will be asked “to take such actions as may be necessary to provide an environment in which the families may grieve in private.” Only family members who make a decision to speak with the press could be interviewed, said David Schaffer, Counsel to the Aviation Subcommittee.
The Secretary of Transportation is required to establish the task force, which must submit its privacy recommendations to Congress within a year. It will consist of representatives from the NTSB, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross, representatives of air carriers, families of passengers involved in previous accidents, and “representatives of such other entities as the Secretary considers appropriate.” (H.R. 3539, Title VII)