On June 15, 2004, SPJ President Mac McKerral and Freedom of Information Committee Co-chairs Charles Davis and Joel Campbell wrote to the leaders of New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority. They encourage the MTA not to create rules prohibiting photography and videotaping in subway and bus systems.
The letter stated, “Photography, both still and video, is an essential form of speech and a fundamental part of the Constitutional right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Thus, any restriction on photography must carry a heavy burden of justification, and may not be justified on the basis of ill-defined and overbroad “security” concerns.”
Read the full text of the letter below.
Metropolitan Transit Authority Letter
June 15, 2004
Peter S. Kalikow, Chairman Katherine N. Lapp, Executive Director Metropolitan Transit Authority 347 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10017
Dear Mr. Kalikow and Ms. Lapp:
The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest association of working journalists representing nearly 10,000 print, broadcast and online reporters and editors, wishes to formally oppose the New York City Transit proposal to prohibit photography and videotaping in subway and bus systems.
Photography, both still and video, is an essential form of speech and a fundamental part of the Constitutional right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Thus, any restriction on photography must carry a heavy burden of justification, and may not be justified on the basis of ill-defined and overbroad “security” concerns.
While media reports indicate that permits could be obtained in advance, we don’t believe that this is a solution for several reasons. First, news photographers don’t have the luxury of advance knowledge of breaking news and could be unable to obtain the necessary permits in a timely manner. In the event of a public health emergency, disaster, terrorist attack or any of a countless number of scenarios, such a rule would justify the arrest of news photographers merely for capturing images of bona fide breaking news stories. Such a system is intolerable in a democracy that protects and encourages freedom of expression.
The transit authority would then be in the position of denying access if they disapprove of a story, a media outlet or an individual photojournalist, with no mechanism for appeal. This effectively enables a government agency to license the media and decide who can and cannot report the news. Again, despite the best of intentions here, such a rule cannot be supported in a way that respects the First Amendment rights of the press.
In addition to the constraints that this would place on regular news media, we believe every member of the public should be afforded their constitutional right to freedom of expression, whether verbal or artistic. The Transit Authority’s rules infringe on every citizen and visitor to New York who wishes to snap a picture.
Our constitutional rights are an essential part of our society, and we should not allow our enemies to frighten us into curtailing these rights. We do not believe that making allowances for the media would eliminate the chilling effect of this proposed rule.
SPJ calls on the Metropolitan Transit Authority to reject the proposed ban on photography and remove it from the list of rule changes that it is considering.
Sincerely, Gordon “Mac” McKerral, President Charles Davis, Co-chair, Freedom of Information Committee Joel Campbell, Co-chair, Freedom of Information Committee