Photo Attorney

Dec 6, 2007

Hearing Scheduled on Proposed Photography Rules for Federal Lands

An announcement from the House Committee on Natural Resources on the "New fees for Filming and Photography on Public Lands":

Amid concerns over the impact that an Interior Department proposed rule could have on the ability of professional journalists to access National Parks, Wildlife Refuges and other federal lands for legitimate news coverage, the House Natural Resources Committee will convene an oversight hearing to examine these assertions of infringement on First Amendment rights.

"An environment that allows an open and free press to flourish is essential in maintaining the democratic foundations of this country. Unfortunately, this Administration has gained a well-earned reputation for leaking, distorting, and stonewalling, which undermines the ability of the press to serve as a valuable check on the government. The news media's concerns over this proposed rule deserve an open forum," said U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), the Committee's Chairman.

In 2000, the Congress passed legislation [P.L. 106-206] to streamline the filming policy across agencies under Interior's jurisdiction - including the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management - and require special use permits and fees on commercial filming and other such activities. While the law intended to exempt traditional news media to allow coverage of public lands, natural resources, and conservation issues, the proposed regulations implementing the law have been criticized for going too far in limiting access to these lands for small-scale and documentary filming, freelance and independent productions, audio recording, and still photography.

In an October 19 letter to the Interior Department on the proposed commercial filming rule, the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) and a large coalition of other national professional journalism groups stated their, "... strong concern over the possible negative impact of the proposed rule on the First Amendment rights of a free press."

The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, December 12, 2007, at 10:00 a.m. in room 1324 Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C. Anticipated witnesses include Administration officials, as well as representatives from several prominent professional print, broadcast and photojournalism organizations, including the ASMP, TV News Directors Association, the Society of Environmental Journalists, and NPPA.

The hearing will be webcast live on the Committee's web site at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/.

For more background on the Interior regulations, see:

The Interior Department's proposed regulations.

The ASMP testimony given in 1999.

A statement by the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Still photographers have in the past enjoyed the freedom to photograph federal lands, even if they were doing it for more than a hobby. Hopefully, those liberties will continue.