No news fee is good news to reporters who cover Palm Beach, Fla.

Monday, August 3, 1998

The proposal by a Palm Beach, Fla., councilman to define news and charge reporters a fee to videotape never made it to the full city council.

Two council members serving on the council's Ordinance Rules and Standards Committee concluded Thursday that the proposal should go no further.

The measure had drawn the attention of media groups and First Amendment advocates who called it an unconstitutional attempt to control the content of news.

The proposal had “astonished” Barbara Bolton Litten, a First Amendment attorney based in West Palm Beach who attended the Thursday meeting.

“I'm gratified that the council recognized the problems raised by this proposal and wisely chose to table the matter,” Litten said.

Councilman Leslie Shaw's proposed ordinance was reportedly a response to unwanted intrusions into the lives of many of the city's celebrity residents.

The measure sought to divide journalists into two categories: those who were reporting on news of “immediate” interest to the public and those engaged in producing documentaries, magazine shows or investigative reports.

Under the ordinance:

  • Programs such as “Extra,” “Hard Copy” or “Inside Edition” would have to pay a $1,000 application fee, spend $800 per day to film in the city, carry insurance and keep to certain designated filming locations.
  • A legal distinction would be established between “news protected under the First Amendment [and] a commercial venture [production] with an interesting subject matter that could be classified as a documentary.”
  • News would be defined as “an event requiring immediate coverage and urgent time-transfer of information to the public.”

Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post said: “I didn't think it was going to fly anyway, although in a town like Palm Beach you're never sure. It just seemed too wacky to be true.”

Had it passed, Cerabino predicted that the law would have been “vigorously challenged in court.”

Now, Cerabino said, he'll have to find something else to “ridicule” in his columns.

Shaw is vacationing and was unavailable for comment. There is a possibility that the councilman could revive the measure when he returns, but the apparent lack of enthusiasm by the council makes that it seem unlikely.