Idaho Public Television plans to fight the U.S Forest Service over a proposal that would require its camera crews to ask government permission before filming on public land.
The Forest Service first introduced the rule four years ago as a means of protecting public lands from commercial interests.
The rule has been in place as a temporary directive, and largely unenforced in recent years. But the federal agency recently announced it wants to make the directive permanent.
“We’re very concerned about it,” says Idaho Public Television General Manager Ron Pisaneschi. “The way it is written, it requires permits and fees for anyone who is filming in wilderness areas, either still or moving pictures. The only exception seems to be for breaking news, and they have defined breaking news in a very narrow way that we think has some constitutional issues.”
First Amendment advocates say a government agency can't implement such a rule without making a compelling case for why it's necessary.
"Liz Close, the Forest Service's acting wilderness director, says the restrictions have been in place on a temporary basis for four years and are meant to preserve the untamed character of the country's wilderness. Close didn't cite any real-life examples of why the policy is needed or what problems it's addressing. She didn't know whether any media outlets had applied for permits in the last four years." - The Oregonian
A Forest Service spokesman told The Oregonian the fees can run as much as $1,500. Reporters who don’t get the proper approval could face a $1,000 penalty.
Besides concerns over having to pay to film on public land, news outlets are worried the rule could allow a Forest Service official to deny a permit application if the news outlet plans to shed negative light on the agency’s management practices.
Pisaneschi also takes issue with the rule’s broad scope. Idaho Public Television is a non-profit, non-commercial public media source. As it’s written, Pisaneschi says, the Forest Service’s directive doesn’t make room for such outlets.
“[Under the directive] You’re either a private citizen or a commercial entity,” he says. “We certainly don’t think that we’re a commercial entity.”
For more than 30 years, Idaho Public Television’s “Outdoor Idaho” has consistently filmed on Forest Service land. The show’s executive producer, Bruce Reichert, says if the Forest Service gets its way, it could mean an end to the legacy show.
Reichert says the TV station was denied Forest Service access in 2010. He says the agency changed its mind after pressure from Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Rep. Mike Simpson.
The Forest Service is accepting public comment on the proposal until November 3. Idaho Public Television plans to voice its opposition with the federal agency, which is run by Boise native Tom Tidwell.
Part of that message, Pisaneschi says, will be that the rule is unfair and unnecessary.
“For the last 30-plus years, things have worked just fine," says Pisaneschi. "There doesn’t seem to be a problem that needs to be fixed.”
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