ACLU Steps in to Stop City from Attempt to Control News Media

Once again, the City has attempted to control news media which may not be favorable to its positions or officials.

Resident George Edwards, editor of and major shareholder of the global news organization Unisat, intended to videotape the upcoming League of Women Voters Candidates' Forum.

Edwards has recently videotaped and provided for public view, the two CPGP 2011 City Council Election Candidates Forums, the League's November School Board Candidates Forum, and the 2007 City Council Candidates Forum.

He also has filmed community events that were broadcast on Channel 3 such as the Wildlife Crossing Underpass Opening on Harbor Blvd, and the Historic Home Tour.

In a communication with the League to coordinate recording the event, he received the email below from the League's President.

"After talking to Shauna Clark and Joe Geissinger and looking at some of your blogs, the League Board has decided that it is inappropriate to allow someone who is obviously opposing certain Candidates to film the proceedings. The City has decided to have a live feed onto their website, Granicus, and posting of the forum on the website also. The live feed will obviously not be cut or edited because it is live.
News media without a predetermined point of view can report in an unbiased way. Your postings show that you have taken sides in this race and are not unbiased.
So for this forum you will not be invited to participate" reports that the City used strong-arm tactics on the League of Women Voters to exclude some media from covering the League's Candidates Forum.

Mr. Edwards contacted the ACLU, which handled a similar case 4 years ago.

The ACLU legal team acted immediately and issued a letter to City Manager Shauna Clark stating:

"The Supreme Court has repeatedly stated the First
Amendment forbids the government from regulating speech in ways that favor
some viewpoints or ideas at the expense of others. See, e.g., Lamb’s Chapel v.
Center Moriches Union Free School Dist., 508 U.S. 384, 394 (1993). The
government may not deny access to a forum – even a forum not traditionally open
to the general public – “merely because public officials oppose the speaker's
view.” Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, 473 U.S. 788,
800 (1985).

Controlling News & Information

The City attempts to control access to and dissemination of news and information by various means.

Public Records Requests

The speed, or lack thereof, with which the City responds to public and media requests for information directly impacts whether and when residents learn of City actions that may affect them.

Heights Life - A Government Information Tool

Unknown to most people, City Staff are paid to craft unattributed "news" articles and "information that would benefit the public" that are published each month in the Heights Life magazine. Without attribution, the reader is unaware that the government crafted writings may have a bias or may be setting the groundwork for acceptance of tax increases, service cuts, or another agenda.

In response to a query, City Manager Shauna Clark confirmed that City Staff are writing for the Heights Life. A recent City job opening posting included as duties, "drafting articles for a monthly community magazine".

Ms. Clark has also written several attributed editorials for that publication, which she states are done on her own time.

Banning News Publication From City Hall

The City has prohibited placement of our companion periodic " Newsletter" at City Hall with other News publications stating our publication is "not news" and "snarky".

State and Federal Law do not allow picking and choosing of what News publications will be allowed in a public space.

Has Not Broadcast Candidates Forum

The Coalition to Protect the General Plan (of which this writer is a member) held two public City Council Candidates Forums, one in December for prospective Council Candidates and one in January for declared Candidates (Howard Vipperman accepted an invitation but pulled out at the last minute because of illness).

The Coalition solicited questions from the public, narrowed the questions down, and provided them to the candidates several days prior to the Forum. Five additional questions from the audience were also asked. The Forum was videotaped by George Edwards and is available online. A live audio broadcast was also provided by Mr. Edwards.

The City was offered the video for broadcast on Channel 3 and has not done so.

Freedom is Not Free

Our Constitutional rights, such as Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, and Right of Free Assembly are not automatic. Goverment continually tries to weaken or thwart those rights, and it is up to Citizens to assert and defend those rights.

Read the February 11, 2011 ACLU Letter

Read the 2007 ACLU Letter

See the January 28, 2010 CPGP City Council Candidates Forum

See the December 1, 2010 CPGP Candidates Forum

See the City Job Opening Posting for writing Heights Life articles