The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) has asked Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to clarify its policy for requiring permits and fees for photography in National Parks and other public lands.
SEJ expressed concern over Interior's photo policy in a letter of July 20, 2006, to Kempthorne and National Park Service Director Fran Mainella. At issue is whether the permit-and-fee policy, which Interior claims is legally required, will interfere with newsgathering or similar work that informs the public about resources and happenings on the millions of acres of publicly owned land managed by the Interior Department.
Interior is in the process of developing agency-wide rules governing photography on public land. Park Service officials have tried to assure news media that a new interim policy adopted this year will not interfere with newsgathering. But those assurances left many questions unresolved such as whether fees might be required of an independent documentary producer, for example, doing a film about park wildlife trends for either public TV or a basic cable channel.
This year's interim rule, and the law on which it is based, enacted in 2000, were apparently meant to help the Park Service control disruption from major commercial motion-photography productions on NPS land. But the 2000 law also seemed intended to allow low-impact still photography, whether commercial or non-commercial. The Park Service has applied this aggressively, charging fees to couples who want to have a commercial wedding photo taken against the backdrop of, say, the Jefferson Memorial.
SEJ's concern is that vaguely drawn language or inappropriately aggressive enforcement could keep many of its members from doing their jobs jobs they have a perfect legal right to do on public land.
"Our membership includes news gatherers who are print reporters, nature photographers, photojournalists, authors, documentary film producers, radio and television reporters and producers, freelancers and others, taking both still and motion pictures, for print, broadcast, and online media," the letter from SEJ President Perry Beeman states.
SEJ has weighed in early with Interior on the issue long before the agency has drafted or proposed an agency-wide rule, in an effort to get members' concerns factored in at the beginning.
In a June 21, 2006, response to an earlier inquiry by SEJ Executive Director Beth Parke, NPS Special Park Uses Program Manager Lee Dickinson wrote: "News coverage does not require a permit, for either filming or still photography, but is subject to time, place, and manner restrictions, if warranted, to maintain order and ensure the safety of the public and the media, and protect natural and cultural resources."