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ACLU raises concerns over RIPTA attempt to ban journalist from recording meeting



The ACLU of Rhode Island today wrote to officials at the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority to raise concerns about an incident that occurred yesterday when the agency initially sought to ban local journalist Steve Ahlquist from video recording a RIPTA Board meeting.

Although the agency ultimately relented, the ACLU letter said that the incident demonstrated “both a disturbing distrust of the press and a woeful lack of regard for the importance” of the Open Meetings Act. The letter, addressed to RIPTA Board Chair Wayne Kezirian, called on the agency to “take immediate action to ensure that appropriate officials and employees of your agency are reminded of their obligations under the state’s Open Meetings Act.” The letter noted it has been more than 30 years since a court first ruled that the public had a right to record the meetings of public bodies.

In an emailed reply to the ACLU’s letter, Chair Kezirian downplayed the events and RIPTA actions yesterday, but he did indicate that there would be no prohibition on recording RIPTA meetings. He said that the agency will continue to allow Mr Ahlquist and others to videotape, but also expressed concern that members of the public who wish to comment may be uncomfortable being recorded.

To this point, Steve Ahlquist responded: “While I appreciate RIPTA Board Chair Wayne Kezirian’s response….Public meetings are public for a reason. An announcement at the beginning of the meeting, that the meeting can be recorded by any member of the public for any reason, not just journalism, would provide a way to alert people that they might not want to reveal private details about themselves… Beyond that, the Open Meetings Act is an important law that protects the public.”

A copy of the ACLU’s letter can be found here.

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Kezirian’s reply to our letter can be found here.

Steve Ahlquist’s recitation of the incident can be found here.

More information on RI’s Open Meeting Act can be found here.

[From a press release]

The American Civil Liberties Union is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to upholding and protecting the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Founded in the 1920s by a small group of devoted civil libertarians, today the ACLU is comprised of more than 500,000 members and more than fifty affiliates and chapters nationwide.