Pain in the Ass or Victim of the State?

by Tim Stelloh, April 27, 2010

David Gurney, "independent video journalist" and enemy of all things Marine Life Protection Act, was arrested last week at an MLPA meeting in Fort Bragg for "disrupting a legal assembly."

A Fish and Game spokesman told the Sac Bee that Gurney had disrupted meetings five times in two days; when he was eventually asked to leave, he refused and was arrested.

Gurney--who says he's creating a "video record" of the protection act--contends that his rights to film and speak at a public meeting were violated.

On the first day of meetings--which were "work sessions" for the North Coast's 34 regional stakeholders--MLPA officials asked Gurney to turn off his video camera. He initially protested, saying the meeting was public and that they were violating the Brown Act. He eventually relented (click here for footage of that exchange) and shut off his camera. The next day, after asking a question about ocean industrialization, Gurney says he was approached by a Fish and Game warden and forcibly removed.

Here's a little more detail, via the Bee, on what the MLPA says the public can and can't do during such meetings:

The stakeholder group holds two kinds of meetings that are noticed for public attendance. The first is a conventional meeting in which the public may comment and ask questions. The group also holds "work sessions," in which the public is not allowed to ask questions, take photographs or record audio or video. Accredited journalists are told to obtain approval before attending...The goal is to create a "safe space" to share ideas candidly, said Ken Wiseman, executive director of the initiative to create the preserves. "It lets people talk about ideas without having it thrown on the Web," he said. "It is as open and transparent as you will ever see."

This isn't the first time Gurney has had problems with Fish and Game and the MLPA. There was a similar exchange in January while Gurney was filming a meeting, according to Frank Hartzell at the Fort Bragg Advocate:

The biggest controversy of the night erupted when the PR staff noticed David Gurney videotaping the meeting and asked the crowd if anyone minded being recorded. They said the camera should be turned off if anyone requested it. Two people said they didn't want to be on tape.

Gurney, who was standing against a wall operating his camera, said it was his right to record a public meeting. A controversy erupted and two uniformed DFG wardens came to assist MLPAI staff.

Gurney has repeatedly objected to the use of wardens as security officers and said they should instead participate in the meeting. He had also been involved in a confrontation at a meeting in Eureka. He blamed the staff for starting the confrontation on Monday, saying it was typical of the extra-legal and illegal efforts of the private MLPAI.

As the situation heated up, this reporter backed up the right of anyone to film a public meeting. A compromise was reached when Gurney agreed not to film people in the audience, although he (correctly) said it was his right to film whatever he wanted at a public meeting (as long as he continued to not disrupt the meeting).

The question, said Peter Scheer, of the First Amendment Coalition, is whether MLPA meetings are more like city council hearings--which can be recorded--or court proceedings, which can't (unless you're given special permission).

Though Scheer isn't familiar with the MLPA, he said its open meeting guidelines are probably defined by the Bagley-Keene Act, which allows the public to record state meetings. Just because someone is uncomfortable with the idea of ending up on the Internet isn't a good enough reason to keep the public from recording a public meeting, he said.

"Frankly, people who come to these meetings have to understand what they say is the public record," Scheer said.

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