The availability of affordable video equipment and social media like YouTube and Facebook has allowed citizens around the country the ability to videotape and broadly disseminate footage of politicians at town hall meetings, public debates, and other events. Unfortunately, fear of unflattering footage has caused some politicians to block citizens' ability to videotape public meetings.
Since the government does not organize these meetings, public officials often have wide discretion to control aspects of the venue, such as videotaping. However, whether the public official is within his or her legal rights to prevent citizens from taping is not necessarily the question. Elected officials are charged with serving the people and nurturing political discourse on important issues facing our communities. Preventing citizens from taping public meetings not only discourages enthusiastic civic participants, but limits the flow of information that helps inform the public at large.
Public officials have cited ambiguous “security concerns” as a reason to prohibit videotaping, but can give no concrete examples how citizens videotaping may pose a threat. In addition, members of the media often are allowed access to tape events where citizens are prohibited from doing so, creating an unfair double standard.
Public relations concerns should never trump the public good. Elected officials should not stifle civic engagement, but embrace it and foster an environment that strengthens and develops it.