Fees proposed for filming on federal land
The Bush administration is trying to hide its mismanagement of federal lands by using new permit requirements and fees to limit filming...
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is trying to hide its mismanagement of federal lands by using new permit requirements and fees to limit filming and photography in national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said Wednesday.
"This administration's record on resources management is dismal," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. "Any hint that this new permit and fee structure could limit the free flow of public information regarding the very real consequences of these failures is simply unacceptable."
Rahall's committee heard testimony on the proposed regulations covering the national parks, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges.
The regulations would require a permit and fee payment by those engaging in commercial filming or photography on federal lands. The only exception would be for journalists covering "breaking news." When the licenses would be required and fees imposed would be up to local land managers.
But critics, including the Society of Environmental Journalists, National Press Photographers Association and Radio-Television News Directors Association, said the proposed regulations were unworkable, the definition of news "excessively broad" and the discretion given local officials excessive.
In addition, the critics said the original 2000 law was aimed at large Hollywood production companies that were using federal lands and was never intended to cover journalists working on longer-range projects, documentary filmmakers or freelancers, among others.
The Interior Department is in the midst of finalizing the regulations.
"The proposal, as drafted, would give Department of Interior employees excessively broad discretion to define what is and is not news," said Tony Overman, a photographer with The Olympian and president of the National Press Photographers Association.
"The result, of course, would be entirely inconsistent with the government's constitutional obligation to avoid defining or regulating the collection and reporting of the news and with our government's tradition of openness and fairness to the press."
Administration officials defended the proposed regulations and said they tracked the original law. They also said there was no effort to limit news coverage of public-land issues.
"There is no intention in these proposed regulations for censorship by the agencies based on content," said Mitchell Butler, deputy assistant secretary of the interior for fish, wildlife and parks.
"In fact, we believe that telling the story of our resources benefits not only our public lands but the visiting public as well."
Others testified that there have been problems with existing rules.
One freelance radio reporter was told by officials at Yellowstone National Park that she would need to secure a permit, pay a fee and have $1 million in liability insurance before she would be permitted into the park to interview an expert on wolves, said Timothy Wheeler, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
Wheeler said park officials admitted they had made an error, but he said the latest proposals could cause more confusion.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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