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Police ask media to sign agreement limiting emergency reports

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  1. Newsgathering
FLORIDA--After friction between reporters and law enforcement during a hostage crisis in mid-May, two Tampa television stations agreed to sign…

FLORIDA–After friction between reporters and law enforcement during a hostage crisis in mid-May, two Tampa television stations agreed to sign a pact pledging to cooperate with police operations during breaking news stories.

In early December, law enforcement agencies met in Tampa with eight news organizations to discuss an agreement which would limit the ability of news agencies to cover breaking news stories. The agencies said unrestrained live coverage could interfere with operations and reveal police strategy in hostile situations, particularly those involving hostages or where the suspect has access to television or radio reports.

According to The Tampa Tribune, ABC affiliate WFTS and cable station Bay News 9 signed an agreement to limit their live coverage of certain events. Several other news organizations, including the Tribune, the St. Petersburg Times and WFLA Channel 8, would not sign the agreement, but agreed to cooperate. Eighteen law enforcement agencies also signed the agreement and said that by cooperating with the agreement, news media representatives would be given better access to news scenes.

This agreement parallels state legislation proposed by Florida Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Brooksville). Senate Bill 166 would make it a felony for a person to “initiate, or attempt to initiate, contact with any person directly involved in the mobilization, deployment, or tactical operations of a law enforcement agency, including a kidnapping or other incident involving the taking or holding of hostages.”

The legislation, if passed, would also prohibit live broadcast of audio of video that records or depicts law enforcement operations. News helicopter coverage of breaking news stories involving police could also be banned by this legislation, according to reports by The Tampa Tribune.

Brown-Waite is said to have proposed the bill in response to the hostage stand-off between Florida law enforcement and Hank Earl Carr. Carr, a fugitive who took a convenience store clerk hostage after killing two police officers and a state trooper, was interviewed by reporters from a local radio station and newspaper while still holding the hostage. Carr later shot himself.

Police claim the reporters interviewing Carr, as well as news helicopters circling the scene, inhibited their ability to negotiate with the fugitive during the crisis. (S.B. 166)