Friday, August 31, 2007

Restrictions on Recording Medical Meetings

The organizers of most medical meetings allow members of the press to have unlimited access to their meetings. But every so often I'll run into a meeting where there are restrictions against photography (most frequently) and against audio recording (less frequently).

I think there's little justification for any of these restrictions; if reporters are allowed to be present, they should be allowed to do their jobs as long as they don't disrupt the meeting.

At the recent annual meeting of the American Psychological Association a member of the press office staff apparently attempted to enforce a silly rule against a reporter from Democracy Now!: a 10-minute limit on recording during the session. The APA was debating a resolution on the participation of psychologists in military torture.

Science writer Norman Bauman chronicled what happened in a post on the nasw-talk mailing list, which is maintained by the National Association of Science Writers. With Mr. Bauman's permission, I'm quoting his message in full:

Amy Goodman, broadcast producer of DemocracyNow!, had a showdown with the
American Psychological Association's PR department this weekend, when they
ordered her to stop recording a session about psychologists participating in
military torture.

She refused to stop, and the PR department threatened to call security.

Goodman publicly announced to the audience that the APA leadership was
refusing to let her record, and asked the members whether they wanted her to
continue recording. As you can hear on the recording, the audience
overwhelmingly wanted her to record, because they wanted their debate to be
disseminated to the public. Someone made a motion, and they voted to let her
continue recording.

The APA meeting this weekend in San Francisco debated a resolution, which an
APA committee had approved, on the participation of psychologists in
military interrogations. 6 members of the 10-member committee worked for the
military. Dissident members said that ethics code has a loophole which
permits torture -- if there is a conflict between the ethics code and a law
or military regulation, a psychologist can follow the law or regulation.

The APA PR department had limited Goodman's taping of the session to 10
minutes, and tried to stop her when she ran over 10 minutes.

The APA prohibited her from recording some sessions at all, but she recorded
them anyway.

The APA is the last medical professional organization to let its members
participate in torture. The American Medical Association and American
Psychiatric Association declared that it was unethical for their members to
participate in torture.

Here's the transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: Not long after the town hall meeting had begun, the APA's
public affairs officer approached Democracy Now! and told us to stop
filming. She said we could only tape ten minutes and that we had passed our
time limit. I got on the microphone and told the people gathered at the
meeting what was happening.

AMY GOODMAN: Excuse me, just [inaudible] a point of procedure. We're told
that reporters are only allowed to record for ten minutes, and Pamela
Willenz of the APA said that she will call security on us now, because we're
going to be recording for more than ten minutes. So I was wondering if there
could be any sense of the meeting, or a rationale, since this is a town hall
meeting, for not being allowed to record for more than ten minutes.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We want to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: Can we vote to allow recording at the town hall
meeting? Can we all vote to allow recording?


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: Can we vote to allow recording?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: We want the press to witness this.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: Can everyone who approves of allowing the reporters to
record please raise your hand?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK, folks, the recording will continue through the session


I think this is a good example of how to deal with organizations that won't
let you cover a legitimate news event of public importance.

I've been in situations like this, where people threated to have me
arrested, and I stood up to them. They backed down.

In the analysis of how the news media failed us in Iraq, one White House TV
reporter said that it's hard to stand up in the White House press room and
challenge the President of the United States.

Journalists have a privileged position in the U.S., because we have a role
set out for us in the Constitution. We can have a good time, and lots of
perks, writing interesting stories, but in exchange we have an obligation to
supply our readers with the information they need. A lot of journalists
failed their job, because they were too timid to stand up to authority when
it was their responsibility to do so. As a result 500,000 Iraqis died.

DemocracyNow! is broadcast (in New York, anyway) on the radio at 9am EST,
but you can see it on the Internet. Theyalso make a full transcript available in the afternoon. I recommend that everyone read the transcript or listen to it, and in particular listen to Goodman's confrontation with the APA.

The next time you have to stand your ground, you can remember how Goodman
did it.

I previously said that I think Goodman is the best interviewer in the U.S.,
since the demise of the Playboy Interview. Her best interview, I think, was
her interview with Bill Clinton . She was the only reporter I can think of who asked him about solid issues.

Goodman was once reporting on a peaceful demonstration in East Timor, when
the (U.S.-supported) military opened fire, killing several demonstrators,
and beat her and another reporter to the ground with rifle butts. So she
doesn't have any trouble standing up to Presidents of the United States. She
was in more combat than they were. [end of Norman Bauman's nasw-talk post]

Link to the entire 20 August 2007 show.

What do you think? Are restrictions on recording or photography ever appropriate at medical meetings?

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