Republican Congressman Steve Chabot (Ohio) is in the middle of a brewing controversy involving freedom to record public events.
Chabot's staff allegedly ordered police to confiscate two cameras from individuals attending his town hall meeting on Monday night. Now, following this surprising action, clips of the incident are beginning to circulate.
Oddly, while normal citizens were told they couldn't record the event, news cameras were rolling freely. The actions may have been rooted in Chabot's hopes that disparaging YouTube clips of people protesting him wouldn't make their rounds.
A Chabot spokesperson told Cincinnati.com that a staff member asked the police to take the cameras in order to protect the privacy of others:
A Chabot spokesman said the had the cameras seized “to protect the privacy of constituents” at the event, although there were at least two media outlets at the North Avondale Recreation Center filming the meeting.
A Cincinnati police officer was present at the request of Chabot’s staff. Chabot spokesman Jamie Schwartz said that the House Sergeant at Arms has advised members of the House to coordinaate with local law enforcement on all public events.
The first video shows an officer taking a camera from a woman in the audience:
Then, a second video captures police taking an iPhone away from a man. In this instance, the cops say that the event cannot be recorded, claiming that their confiscatory actions will "protect the constituents."
Apparently, a sign had been posted outside the meeting saying that cameras would not be allowed for security reasons. Also, the individuals who lost their cameras were purportedly part of a group that was planning to protest against the congressman. But, as the clips show, these individuals weren't being disruptive when the cameras were taken away.
In the end, this is sure to cause controversy. If, indeed, the congressman was trying to prevent footage of protesters, this will certainly come under scrutiny. In the end, it's intriguing that a public meeting in a public building would see such actions occurring. Also, it's bizarre that no one appears to have assumed the media would capture the police action.
The press surrounding the incident has apparently led to a change of heart. The Chabot spokesperson told Cincinnati.com that the guidelines will change for the next town hall:
By the time Chabot holds his next town hall meeting at Westwood Town Hall Monday, Schwartz said, the rules will have changed. People will be allowed to ask questions of the congressman directly and cameras will not be seized.
“We’ll just advise the audience that if they have something of a personal nature they want to discuss with the congressman, they come up afterwards and the congresssman will stay around as long as it takes to talk to them,” Schwartz said.