People should be able to record town-hall meetings

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More than 220 years ago, the nation’s founders — after gathering in Philadelphia to create the Declaration of Independence — risked life, liberty and property in fighting to create a new nation.

Admittedly, they never had to overcome the fear of being seen on Facebook.

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., has banned most video and audio recording devices from his town-hall meetings. A Scranton, Pa., Times-Tribune news report quotes his spokesman, Shawn Kelly, as saying the ban was put into effect so those attending these public meetings could speak without fear of having audio or video of their remarks appear on the Web.

Curiously, the “no recording” policy exempts news media video cameras and audio recorders, the news report said.

Barletta is not alone: The Times-Tribune reports that Tom Marino, a Republican in a neighboring district, appears to have the same policy. Marino’s spokeswoman prevented a man from taking a video camera into a town hall meeting in Lackawanna County last week. The man was allowed in without the camera.

Anonymous speech is a valued, historic part of discussion of public issues. Much of the national debate over adopting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — the Federalist Papers are one example — was carried out in published articles where the authors were identified only by pseudonyms.

But Facebook, YouTube and other video-sharing and social-networking sites are a fact of life today. There certainly are private moments in everyone’s life. Offering comments at a public meeting on matters of public policy to an elected government official, in full view of others at the meeting, would not seem to be one of them.

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