By Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
In an apparent violation of the state’s open meeting law, the University of California regents prevented a filmmaker from entering a public meeting with a video camera Thursday on grounds that he lacked a press credential.
An e-mail exchange also reveals that UC had questioned the filmmaker about the content and purpose of his film, and asked his identity as a condition of access – also apparent violations of state law, legal experts said.
“The regents had no basis to exclude this person from the meeting,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael. “He has a right to be there, and to record the event, under the Bagley-Keene open meeting law.”
That law says any person attending a public meeting of a state agency “shall have the right to record the proceedings with an audio or video recorder” as long as doing so isn’t disruptive.
The same law prohibits state officials from requiring attendees to identify themselves.
Lynn Tierney, one of three UC spokespersons who questioned or barred filmmaker Ric Chavez, said the regents never allow anyone but the press to film or record public meetings.
“That’s how we’ve been operating for years,” said Tierney, who said she had never heard of Bagley-Keene. “If the way we’ve been operating is out of compliance, we’ll give this to our general counsel and he’ll help us draft a new policy that’s consistent with the law.”
The problem began on Wednesday. Chavez, who flew up from Los Angeles for the meeting, like many people, wasn’t aware of that he had the right to film public meetings without permission. So, he e-mailed UC’s public information office asking if he could film the regents meeting in San Francisco.
Spokeswoman Leslie Sepuka replied, asking what kind of shots he wanted. Chavez said he wanted general shots of the regents.
Then spokesman Steve Montiel weighed in: “If you’re shooting film for a news story, or if you can provide more specific information about the documentary you’re working on – who will air it and when, for example – we would consider accommodating you tomorrow. At a minimum, we would need your full name.”
Chavez complied and wrote that he’s spent a year working on a documentary about UC: “everything that makes them function, the good and bad – the current position the UC is in (and) so forth. I’ve been interviewing students and workers, as well as some potential interviews with a couple of the Regents themselves.”
Chavez added that he didn’t know when his documentary would air, but he would post it online and offer it to TV.
Montiel replied: “Ric, sorry, we can’t accommodate you.”
On Thursday, Chavez showed up anyway and set up his camera on a tripod outside of the building at UC’s Mission Bay campus, where the regents were meeting.
UC Police, who act as security at regents meetings and have arrested raucous protesters many times this year, told Chavez to aim his camera away from them. He complied.
Thursday’s meeting was calm and sparsely attended. A Univision TV crew was inside filming.
The police told Chavez he needed Tierney’s permission to enter with his camera. Tierney gave permission – then withdrew it.
Chavez and a person with him asked why, as a reporter looked on.
“I had a lapse in judgment,” she told them, her voice rising in anger. “The issue is you don’t have any press credential. We don’t know why you’re bringing the camera in.”
Attorney Michael Risher of the ACLU of Northern California called UC’s action a violation of state law and said, “It sounds as if they need to update their policies.”
As for screening Chavez by e-mail, “that’s where they crossed the line,” said attorney Stuart Karle, who teaches media law at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. “The court is very clear that you can’t discriminate based on viewpoint.”
UC’s general counsel Charles Robinson said he would study the matter.
“If there’s an issue there, we’ll take action,” he said.
But Chavez wondered what would change and how soon. “The next time there’s a regents meeting, will I go through the same thing as I went through today?”
[ Source: SF Gate ]