Yesterday, during a meeting of the NC Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force, Sen. Jerry Tillman and
sergeant-at-arms Mr. Philip King approached the press section of room 544 of the Legislative Office Building to speak with two documentary filmmakers from Wake Forest University.
Monica Berra, co-director of a film that will look at the sweeping changes brought to North Carolina’s education system thanks to recent legislative actions, told NC Policy Watch that first, sergeant-at-arms King, and then Sen. Tillman, told her and her colleague, Tom Green, that they could not film the meeting without prior approval.
“Are you members of the press? Did you check in with someone,” prodded King.
Berra explained that she and her colleague were there as members of the press to film for their documentary and that they had come to the last meeting of the task force and did not need prior approval then to film.
King responded that they would need approval for filming from one of the chairs of the meeting– in this case, either Sen. Tillman or Rep. Bryan.
Tillman, who came over to the press section after a few minutes of back and forth between King and the filmmakers, said to the co-directors, “we can’t just have people coming in here and start filming.”
“He then cited school board meetings as an example of needing prior approval to film,” Berra told NC Policy Watch.
Finally, Berra said, Tillman and King told them they could film the meeting, just not in the press area.
Berra and her colleague stayed put, though, and after he conferred with legislative staff, Tillman came back over to the press area and apologized to Berra, saying “the ruling is that you can stay.”
In accordance with the NC Open Meetings Law, all official meetings of public bodies are open to the public. Further, “any person may photograph, film, tape-record, or otherwise reproduce any part of a meeting required to be open.”
There is no mention in the statute of needing prior approval from a meeting’s chair. Any member of the public should be able to attend and film public meetings. School board meetings and meetings of legislative task forces would apply under that rule.
There is a stipulation in the law that says, “A public body may regulate the placement and use of equipment necessary for broadcasting, photographing, filming, or recording a meeting, so as to prevent undue interference with the meeting.”
However, in the case of the filmmakers, their equipment as it was set up in the press section did not appear to be grounds for interfering with the business of the meeting.
Berra and Green, who are working on the documentary for their MFA program at Wake Forest University, will call the film “Teaching from the Floor.”
In addition to looking at the vast array of legislative changes to education in North Carolina, the film will hone in on the degree to which the state’s teachers have a voice in shaping education policy.
Sen. Tillman did not respond to an inquiry seeking clarification about why he sought to block the filmmakers from the meeting.