New Jersey Transit Corp. Withdraws Proposed Photo Ban

DURHAM, NC – A proposed ban of photography on New Jersey public transportation and its property by the New Jersey Transit Corporation has been withdrawn by the group’s executive director, George D. Warrington, after they received “an unusual number of public comments” and complaints about the proposed rule changes.

NPPA was one of several press organizations taking formal steps to oppose the suggested photography ban.

“Effective immediately, we will return to our historic practice, which enables hobbyists and other non-commercial photographers to take pictures in public areas throughout the New Jersey Transit system without obtaining permission or providing prior notice. There will also continue to be no restrictions on journalists in public areas of the system,” Warrington wrote in a letter responding to those who had filed public comments of opposition. “Your input was taken into careful consideration by senior management.”

"I am thrilled about this development," NPPA president Alicia Wagner Calzada said today. "This means that our message is getting across, and that policy makers are understanding and supporting the importance of protecting a free press and free expression."

In November 2005, NPPA joined with the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, the Radio-Television News Directors Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists in formal opposition to the proposed New Jersey Transit Corp. photography prohibitions. NPPA’s opposition to the rule changes was voiced on the organization’s behalf in a legal brief filed with New Jersey Transit by pro bono attorney Kurt A. Wimmer of Covington & Burling in Washington, DC. Wimmer specializes in First Amendment matters. In response to Warrington’s letter and the withdrawal of the proposed rule changes, Wimmer wrote, “This is indeed great news!”

Calzada also said today in response to the news, "We are thankful to the Radio-Television News Directors Association, the Reporters Committee for the Freedom, and the Society of Professional Journalists for standing with us on this issue. This really shows that when NPPA members and supporters work together, we can accomplish positive things. The New Jersey proposed photo ban is at least the third public agency that has backed down from efforts to ban photography during the past year. I'm sure we'll see this type of thing again, but we will treat each situation with the care and concern it deserves."

Calzada also thanked all the photographers who sent individual letters to the New Jersey Transit Corp. protesting the proposed ban. "And thanks to attorney Kurt Wimmer, who wrote our legal brief of opposition and made a very strong argument for our case," she said.

NPPA opposed the ban because it would, in counsel’s opinion, violate the First Amendment rights of photojournalists and other photographers; the ban would not achieve New Jersey Transit’s goal of enhancing national security or passenger safety by preventing intelligence gathering activities on New Jersey Transit property; and it would impair the ability of photojournalists to perform their job effectively. Wimmer’s brief also made the point that the proposed rule changes would not leave any alternative means for photographing on New Jersey Transit’s property, and that the proposed ban by itself was unconstitutional.

In his letter of response Warrington also wrote, “Be advised that our police, as well as local law enforcement, have a responsibility to provide for the safety and security of our customers, employees and assets. If an officer receives a complaint or observes circumstances that warrant further investigation, he or she may approach you. I ask that you cooperate fully with the officer, understanding that he or she is concerned both for your safety and the security of 80,000 commuters who ride the system every day.”

“They relented. This shows why we should always respond immediately, and numerously,” NPPA Region 2 director Harry DiOrio said. DiOrio and Region 2 associate director Todd Maisel, along with the New York Press Photographers Association, had led local efforts in New York to oppose the proposed ban.