|Legal Opinion: |
Text of Document: October 21, 1996
Your question is, can the city by ordinance prohibit the broadcasting of meetings of the city’s governing body?
In my opinion, the answer is yes.
In 1977 Tennessee Attorney General’s Opinion 77-251 opined that a radio or television station had the right to broadcast meetings of the Dayton City Commission, as long as the broadcast did not unreasonably interfere with the city commission in the performance of its duties. The basis of the AG’s opinion was the Tennessee Open Meetings Law.
However, I was asked the same question over a year or so ago by another city. I concluded that nobody, including the press, had any right to photograph meetings of a municipal governing body in Tennessee. I based my opinion on the logic of Johnson v. Adams, 629 F.Supp. 1563 (E.D. Tex. 1986). There the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas addressed this question: “Does the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States mandate that the videotaping of the regular sessions of the Commissioners Court of a rural Texas County be allowed?” [The Court pointed out that the Commissioners Court was not a judicial body, but the governing body of a Texas county.] No, said the Court, reasoning that, “It is settled law that a newspaper or television reporter, or other media representative enjoys no greater right of access to the governmental processes than does the general public.” I saw nothing in the Tennessee Open Meetings Law that gave any state statutory authority to the press to film local government meetings. I wrote an ordinance for that city that prohibited any person from bringing into any official meeting of the governing body of the city “any camera, camcorder, or any other photographic equipment of any kind or nature whatsoever.”
My opinion and ordinance became an issue in Tennessee Attorney General’s Opinion No. 95-101, in which the AG opined that an ordinance prohibiting any “camera, camcorder, or other photographic equipment for a city board meeting” would violate neither the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution nor the Tennessee Open Meetings Law. That opinion also expressly withdrew OAG Opinion 77-251.
Tennessee Attorney Generals Opinions are not binding on the courts. However needless to say, I think that OAG Opinion 95-101 is reasoned correctly, that it is within the power of the city’s governing body to regulate the conduct of its meetings, including the prohibition of the filming of its proceedings, and the prohibition on cameras, etc., in the room in which such proceedings are held. With respect to the Tennessee Open Meetings Law, the public, including the press, has a right to attend meetings of city governing bodies; it has no right to film such meetings.
Any prohibition on the filming of meetings of the city’s governing body should be done by ordinance and should be enforced in a non-discriminatory manner.
Let me know if I can help you further in this or any other matter.
Sidney D. Hemsley
Senior Law Consultant