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YouTube Fears – The cause of the NC Senate’s new photography ban?

This week a new sign prohibiting photography went up on the outside of the NC General Assembly's third floor public gallery overlooking the Senate Chamber. This was strange. As thousands of children can attest, taking photos when visiting the gallery is a favorite pastime and has been for years. No such new prohibition appears on the doors to the public gallery overlooking the NC House.

In fact, photography is specifically allowed in the House and Senate public galleries on the third floor of the Legislative Building, at least according to the guidance for visiting the legislative complex on the General Assembly's own website. While the official "Rules for Use of the Legislative Building" document doesn't mention photography at all, there is a guarantee to the public of free access to the Legislative Complex, "so long as they do not disturb the General Assembly, one of its houses, or its committees, members, or staff in the performance of their duties." Finally, the official rules governing debate and decorum in both the House and Senate do not deal specifically with photography either. They do enable control of a "disturbance or disorderly conduct in the galleries," but taking a photo, especially without a flash, can hardly qualify.

So what prompted this quick change in longstanding policy and only in the Senate chamber? Why restrict the public from doing something they've done for years? The answer lies in the clubby and comfortably closed atmosphere of the NC Senate. The famously secret deliberations of the Senate around major policy issues – like the budget – have been discussed at length by commentators and the press. But you have to speak sometime, and Senators have grown used to, over the years, a pretty affable atmosphere on the Senate floor. Drastic reductions in both TV and print coverage of the General Assembly have meant that standing up and fulsomely orating about any particular bill is often like talking with a friendly country club audience who won't hold you much to account for any slip-ups or more outrageous statements.

Enter YouTube. A short video I did a few weeks ago criticizing the Senate for attempting to close NC's affordable children's health insurance program included some footage of the above mentioned type of oration. Despite that it's only been seen by a couple hundred people, a fact that is smashing my dreams of YouTube stardom, I guess it must have had some effect. While I'm sure it was no factor at all in the Senate's quick reversal and new support to keep open the child health program, it does seem to have prompted the photography ban.

I understand the fears of the Senate. The thought that anyone might be held to account for what they actually say is terrifying, especially if they feel what they say is taken out of context. Unfortunately, explaining what you said and what you meant to the people back home is just part of the job of being a politician. The more raucous House seems to have little fear, at least so far, of having to justify their public statements to others. Kids can still use their cameras over in that chamber.

I doubt the photography ban will stand. There really is no justification for it other than to hide further the deliberations of a public body that often seems to wish it could conduct all its business behind closed doors. Today's silent and unobtrusive cameras – most of which easily move between taking still photos and video — remove any reasonable argument that they disturb the "decorum of the chamber." And, after all, the public does foot the bill for the show going on below the galleries. Senators will just have to get used to a little more accountability, and that never is a bad thing.

15 Comments


  1. Dallas Woodhouse

    July 11, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Thnak you for pointing this out. If the press can take photos, I am nore sure they can stop the public from doing so. This is proof that Rand and Basnight think the General Assembly belongs to them, not the people of North Carolina

  2. Dallas Woodhouse

    July 11, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    should be not sure

  3. Adam Searing

    July 11, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks Dallas – I think you are probably right about the press and I have to say that I think groups from across the political spectrum probably all have an equal stake in this too.

  4. James

    July 11, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Looks like it’s time for a little civil disobedience. What say we righties and lefties all get together and go on a photo safari in the next week or so. I’m pretty much ready to get arrested if it’ll get the attention of the corporatists running the NC Senate.

    There you go. I just committed conspiracy to take photos.

  5. A Republican

    July 11, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    I actually agree with a progressive pulse posting. It is a non-partison or should I say bi-partisan issue – accountablility is crucial. Civil disobedience would be great as it would draw attention to the issue.

  6. Tony T

    July 14, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    You may get your chance to witness a little civl disobedience tonight. I had plans to visit the Senate Monday session (14 Jul), with video camera, and don’t intend to let a piece of paper taped to a door stop me.

    Can’t decide whether I’ll put a tape in it though…stay tuned.

  7. Adam Searing

    July 14, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Let me know what happens – good luck!

  8. Tony T

    July 14, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    At 4 PM today I received a call back from Lt. Gov. Perdue’s chief of staff, Don Hobart. He said he thought the issue had “been resolved”. He was waiting for confirmation from the Sergeant-at-Arms that the notice had been removed from the gallery door.

    Turns out the “Presiding Office” enforces Senate Rule 8 that governs “conduct” in the gallery.

  9. gregflynn

    July 14, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    At 6PM the sign was still there. The Senate was due to meet at 7PM.

  10. Tony T

    July 14, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    By 6:30 the sign was still there! Senate Principal Clerk Pruitt said it would stay there until a decision was made, possibly tomorrow. She further stated that a few senators had noticed an increase in camera activity and they “don’t like their picture taken”! She also said there was a security concern. When I told her the LB was the most insecure building in Raleigh, she got flustered and said she didn’t want to argue with me.

    When I walked out the door I called Katy Parker at the ACLU-NC. Katy called Mrs. Pruitt while I was standing there. Not wanting to listen in I walked down to Purdue’s office where an aid called Purdue’s chief of staff, Don Hobart.

    At 6:55 I got a call from the Sergeant at Arms Mr. Goin who said the sign was being taken down. When I got there at 7:05, it was gone.

    Several people throughout the session took photos without interruption.

  11. You Tuber

    July 15, 2008 at 10:12 am

    this is ridiculous. I took video of Ms. Perdues remarks to kick off the opening session of the Senate in May. After reading of this ban I now am going to put it up on You Tube. I agree with Rev. Barber of the NAACP. He said its time to open up this governemt to citizens by having a C-Span style channel on NC cable systems.

  12. Adam Searing

    July 15, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Go Tony T! I love the “security concern” excuse – they couldn’t be serious. Although, I’ve always thought all those 12 year olds with cameras were a little rambunctious. I’m over there today and will see what the door looks like. Should be fun. Sounds like they were hoping they could just quietly do this and didn’t count on people like Tony making waves.

  13. YouTuber

    July 15, 2008 at 11:41 am

    just spoke with Don Hobart. He said Bev. Perdue supports televised sessions of the General Assembly. Now if she would just allow comments on her You Tube page like Pat McCrory does.

  14. […] Faster than a NASCAR spinout, the NC Senate last night reversed its new ban on photography in the chamber. You can see the change in the admonitions on the photo taken today of the door to the public gallery above compared to the photo in the post below. […]

  15. PAW

    July 15, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    Sometimes…all we have to do is ask. QUESTION AUTHORITY!!

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