DURHAM, NC - National Press Photographers Association president Tony Overman, a staff photojournalist for The Olympian in Olympia, WA, is scheduled to testify before the House Natural Resources Committee in Washington, DC, on Wednesday regarding the Department of Interior's proposed revision to its filming regulations in National Parks and Wildlife Refuges.
With the assistance of NPPA's general legal counsel, Mickey H. Osterreicher, Overman will voice NPPA's opposition to the proposed rule changes because the organization feels they would expand restrictions on still photography in the parks, and NPPA also has concerns about the definition of "commercial filming" along with changes in the rules regulating audio gathering under the proposed statue.
"An environment that allows an open and free press to flourish is essential in maintaining the democratic foundations of this country," U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) said in November. Rahall is the House Natural Resources Committee chairman.
"Unfortunately, this Administration has gained a well-earned reputation for leaking, distorting, and stonewalling, which undermines the ability of the press to serve as a valuable check on the government. The news media's concerns over this proposed rule deserve an open forum," the chairman said.
The committee's hearing on "New Fees for Filming and Photography on Public Land" is set to be held in the Longworth House Office Building beginning at 10 a.m. EST on Wednesday, December 12. The hearing will be carried live via Webcast at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/.
"NPPA is sending representatives to this hearing to ensure that professional visual journalists are represented as completely as possible, and to also fulfill our mission to defend the rights and access afforded to journalists by the First Amendment," NPPA's Overman said. NPPA's Advocacy Committee has been following developments in the suggested rule changes since they were first proposed.
The oversight hearing is being held to allow concerns about the proposed rule changes to be addressed by organizations such as NPPA. Under the Department of Interior's proposal, the new rules would establish a permit system for some commercial filming and photography in National Parks and other federal lands. Some of these proposed revisions contradict a set of regulations put forth in Law 106-206 by Congress in 2000 that NPPA found to be very acceptable. Specifically the revisions call for fees on documentary films deemed “commercial”, permits for audio taping and the denial of permits for still photography when deemed “inappropriate” by the agency, which NPPA opposes.
"While we acknowledge the importance of the Department of the Interior's efforts to protect our nation’s natural resources and appreciate its efforts to maintain this important distinction, we are concerned that the draft rules do not draw the bright line that is necessary to exclude all journalistic activities from the photography restrictions," Overman said. "The restrictions must clearly exclude all news photography, and any restrictions on photography in these important areas be carefully drafted to avoid interfering with photojournalists’ ability to report the news."
In his own career Overman has worked extensively in National Parks, covering the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, which is being proposed for National Park status, and he substantial damage and ongoing reconstruction from last year’s destructive flooding in Mount Rainier National Park.
Representatives from the Radio Television News Directors Association, the American Society of Media Professionals, and the Society of Environmental Journalists are also scheduled to testify at the hearing.
For more information on the Department of the Interior’s proposed revisions please see http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2007/E7-15845.htm.