Posted 5 years ago on Feb. 2, 2012, 4:54 p.m. EST by warriorjoe7
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It's time to wake up people...
WASHINGTON -- In a stunning break with First Amendment policy, House Republicans directed Capitol Hill police to detain a highly regarded documentary crew that was attempting to film a Wednesday hearing on a controversial natural gas procurement practice. Initial reports from sources suggested that an ABC News camera was also prevented from taping the hearing; ABC has since denied that they sent a crew to the hearing.
Josh Fox, director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Gasland" was taken into custody by Capitol Hill police this morning, along with his crew, after Republicans objected to their presence, according to Democratic sources present at the hearing. The meeting of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment had been taking place in room 2318 of the Rayburn building.
HuffPost has obtained exclusive video of the arrest of Josh Fox. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, can be heard at the end of the clip asking Republican Chairman Andy Harris (R-Md.) to halt the arrest and permit Fox to film the public hearing. Harris denies Miller's request as Fox is escorted out of the hearing in handcuffs.
WATCH Capitol Hill Police Arrest a Journalist for Filming a Public Hearing: (story continues below)
"Gasland" received strong critical acclaim and takes a critical eye toward the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a process in which several tons of highly pressurized water and chemicals are injected into the ground, allowing valuable natural gas to escape. The practice is decried by ecological experts for destroying ecosystems and polluting groundwater. The energy industry keeps the actual content of fracking chemicals secret.
Fox had hoped to film Wednesday's hearing for a follow-up to "Gasland." Fox told HuffPost later Wednesday evening, "We did get his staff on the phone, they never returned the phone call," referring to staffers for Chairman Harris. "This is not transparency. This is a lockout and it's bad. It's the people's House, after all. We went through the proper channels to arrange to tape this hearing. We have taped congressional hearings before and we've been turned down before, but I disagree with the policy. Anyone who says they're a journalist is a journalist. It's called the First Amendment. It's the freedom of the press, and that is fundamental to our core identity as the United States of America."
Hearings are open to the public, and any citizen can attend. Regulations only govern the use of cameras. Even under an extreme adherence to the rules, Fox's camera could have been confiscated or disabled without subjecting him to arrest. And while Fox did not have formal Capitol Hill credentials, such formalities are rarely enforced against high-profile journalists. Temporary passes are easy to obtain, and if Republicans had objected on procedural grounds, they could have simply sent the crew to the front desk, rather than ordering police to arrest journalists. The right to a free press is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Documentary crews are almost never denied access to public meetings of elected government officials.
UPDATE: 12:09 p.m. -- Capitol Police public information officer Sergeant Kimberly Schneider provided the following statement to HuffPost on the morning's events:
"At approximately 10:30 a.m. today, United States Capitol Police arrested Joshua Fox of Milanville, Pa. in room 2318 of the Rayburn House office building. He is charged with unlawful entry, and he is currently being processed at United States Capitol Police headquarters."
UPDATE: 2:27 p.m. -- Fox apparently had applied for credentialing the day before the hearing but had been unable to obtain official permission to film. He had asked a credentialed film crew to tape the proceedings on his behalf but was informed that this was not permitted.
Nevertheless, turning away journalists is extremely rare on Capitol Hill. The rules requiring pre-approval for film crews are designed to prevent hearings from being disrupted by hordes of camera operators. That was not the case for this hearing. Only two cameras requested entrance to the event, which was not crowded.
Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-Md.) was unavailable for comment, but several Democrats on the committee voiced outrage with the GOP's press blackout.
"I was chair of the Subcommittee for four years, and we frequently had people show up the day of a hearing to film," Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) told HuffPost. "We asked for their name, but they were told if they would not disrupt the hearing, they were free to record. A couple of times staff said, 'You're getting in the way, don't stand there,' but other than that, I do not ever recall anything like this. We certainly never turned anyone away for not providing 24 hours' notice."
"It's an outrageous violation of the First Amendment," Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) told HuffPost. "Here we've got an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, and it's an important subject and the subject that he did his prior film on for HBO. And they put him in handcuffs and hauled him out of there. This is stunning."
"I found it ironic that there was not a flood of cameras there," noted Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.). "There was the one camera and then before that, the ABC camera ... if you have a camera there to bring the issue home to the public, that's a good thing."
The hearing was already being filmed by C-SPAN. Josh Fox had only sought to obtain higher-quality video by bringing their own cameras to the event. Democrats attempted to suspend the rules governing camerawork to allow Fox and ABC to film the hearing, but Republicans, who hold a majority on all House committees and subcommittees, voted down the motion. Democrats then sought to postpone the hearing to allow for filming at a later date, a motion which Republicans also overruled.
UPDATE: 3:45 p.m. -- Republican staffers told Democrats that a crew for ABC News had also been denied access to the event, but ABC News told HuffPost that their organization did not have any journalists assigned to cover the hearing. It is not clear what caused the confusion.