Open Meetings Act does not protect expelled photographer
RHODE ISLAND–In a mid-January decision, the state Supreme Court in Providence ruled that a newspaper photographer who refused to obey instructions may be expelled from a “financial town meeting” because the meeting is not covered by the state Open Meetings Act.
The Act requires meetings of “public bodies” be open to the public and press. But, because the attendees of a town meeting do not meet the definition of a “public body” under the Act, the high court held that the moderator of the meeting could impose restrictions on press coverage without violating state law.
The meeting was held in a Tiverton high school gymnasium. The room had been divided into three sections: one for electors qualified to vote on the annual town budget, a second for members of the general public and a third for press. The sections made it easier for officials to tally votes.
At the start of the meeting, a photographer for the Newport Daily News began walking around the room taking pictures. Moderator Francis McGreavy asked the photographer to remain within the press section. When the photographer continued to move about the room, McGreavy ejected her.
The attorney general brought a complaint on behalf of the newspaper to the Superior Court in Newport claiming that McGreavy’s actions violated the Open Meetings Act. The superior court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that the Act did not apply to this type of meeting.
In affirming the Superior Court’s dismissal, the Supreme Court held that while the press may attend the meeting, it is “subject to the reasonable regulation of the moderator” who may impose rules in order to “manage and regulate the business of each meeting and maintain the peace and good order therein.” (Sherman Publishing Company v. Francis McGreavy; Media Counsel: Joseph Cavanagh, Providence)