Rule would allow prisons to bar media from executions
OREGON–A proposed state corrections department rule would allow prisons to bar reporters from executions and to require any attendees to agree to restrict their coverage as a condition of access.
A Corrections Department hearings officer heard testimony in late January on the proposal to end the current arrangement of having six designated media witnesses on hand for executions. The new rule would leave it to the prison superintendent’s discretion to limit the number of people who could witness executions.
The Corrections Department said it has no intention of excluding reporters from executions, according to the Associated Press. AP reported that corrections officials described the proposed rule as a “housekeeping” change.
The new rule also stipulates several conditions for those invited to attend executions. Included in these conditions is a “covenant of non-disclosure” under which witnesses are forbidden to disclose any physical appearance or characteristics that could identify the executioner, medical professionals, security staff or correctional officers.
Gail Ryder, the Director of Government Affairs for the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, said the association considers this covenant a prior restraint on reporting of executions.
Rob Priewe, an editor at the Corvallis Gazette-Times and president of the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, also testified against the policy as giving prison officials too much discretion to ban the media. Priewe testified that the carrying out the state’s death penalty is an action sanctioned by the public, and merits the utmost scrutiny by the public.
The current execution policy allows six media representatives to view the execution. No paper, pens or recording material are allowed. The inmate is prepared behind a shroud which is not removed until prison staff leave the room. Witnesses are unable to hear any conversation between the inmate and the prison staff nor are they able to hear any last words the inmate may say.
In response to the proposed policy, state representative Randall Edwards (D-Portland) introduced a bill in late January requiring the department to allow news media to witness executions. (Department of Corrections Proposed Administrative Rule Changes)