Lecture policy visited again

Public officials can request restrictions on media recording at events.

If members of the University community can’t attend a State Department counterterrorism coordinator’s presentation on the War on Terror at the University on Wednesday morning, they might still be able to hear it broadcast on a local radio or television station.

This time.

Ambassador Henry Crumpton is scheduled to talk about “A New Era of Conflict” in the Cowles Auditorium. The University and the media will be able to record the public event because Crumpton has no objection.

Tomorrow’s presentation again puts in question the University’s policy of honoring public officials’ requests for media restrictions at public events it sponsors. It also raises the issue of the government’s right to place restrictions on recording public events.

The media recording this event is not an issue; in November it was.

The United States Central Command, the military command responsible for conducting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, called the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs last spring and offered to do the November briefing, said Julie Lund, the institute’s director of communication.

Local media were invited to Maj. Gen. Michael Diamond’s briefing. When they arrived, they learned the military had put restrictions on how the general’s message on the war would be gathered.

where to go

“A New Era of Conflict”
what: Ambassador Henry Crumpton, U.S. Department of State coordinator for counterterrorism, will speak.
when: 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Wednesday
where: Cowles Auditorium, Hubert H. Humphrey Center

Lund said she learned of the restriction on electronic recording devices the day the general arrived to do the briefing.

University spokesman Dan Wolter said the institute’s decision to agree to the general’s request for the media restriction and to let him do his briefing was “entirely appropriate.”

Jane Kirtley, the director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University said the decision is bad policy for an institution that claims to be in the forefront of good governance and public participation in the democratic process.

“The Humphrey Institute – it’s an institute,” she said. “It’s not like some little independent think tank that just happens to be on the University of Minnesota campus. It’s a degree-awarding part of the institution.”

According to Wolter, the University does not have a formal policy on media access to events. He said recent speakers Sandra Day O’Connor, Colin Powell and Bill Clinton made presentations with the restriction on recording devices.

Clinton, Powell and O’Connor were private citizens when they did their presentations at the University. The Army general is, however, a public official.

The University applies the same standards to public officials and private citizens, Wolter said.

Maj. Mark McLaughlin, a CENTCOM spokesman, said the briefings are part of their community relations program to inform the public of the activities of servicemen and servicewomen. They target the regional media to help them get their message out.

“Our goal is to reduce the filtering of information to the U.S. public,” he said. “We find regional media are less prone to follow the national media’s business model, which highlights destruction and violence over everyday activities.”

One news crew from the targeted “regional media” didn’t like the military’s policy restricting them from using their cameras and tape recorders at the briefing.

The briefing was delayed when a news crew from KSTP-TV started taping in Cowles Auditorium during the general’s introduction. The general would not come on the stage and start the briefing until after the news crew turned their camera off.

Mark Anfinson, a media attorney who also represents the Daily, said the crew was not violating any laws by taping in the auditorium.

“Basically, at this sort of public event in a public venue, the news media have a very strong right to record the briefing, by whatever means they choose,” Anfinson said. “The problem, however, is that the presenter – in this case, the general – has no obligation to speak.”

About 90 people attended the November event at the 250-seat auditorium.

Scott Libin, former news director at KSTP-TV and a current faculty member at The Poynter Institute, said more people would see the event via media than could possibly attend in person.

“Surely there can be no argument over the public interest or newsworthiness involved,” he said.

Minnesota Public Radio, which, according to its Web site, has over 780,000 listeners each week, also wanted to record the briefing. Annie Baxter, the MPR reporter at the event, said they planned to play it in its entirety the following day on its Mid-Day program.

Wolter said University officials would have preferred to inform the media before they arrived of the recording restriction at the military briefing.

“However, when it came down to a decision between canceling the event or proceeding with the restrictions on recording devices, we opted to preserve the academic experience opportunity,” Wolter said.

He said the University’s primary responsibility is to “offer a rich academic experience for our students.” This was an opportunity for students to interact with a military official during a time of war, he said.

Libin said he “hopes the Institute will revisit its own practices and guidelines for visiting speakers and consider limiting its programs to those that respect the rights of a free media.”

Lund said Friday the institute’s policy to “honor the request of the presenter on recording the presentation” still stands.

Restrictions like this go beyond just being a restriction on the media, Kirtley said.

“I’m a real believer that any time the media are being excluded or restricted that what that really means is that their readers or viewers are being restricted or excluded,” she said.

– Freelance Editor Yelena Kibasova welcomes comments at [email protected]