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A coalition of First Amendment advocates today demanded increased press access to public demonstrations on the Boston Common and asked city officials to revise policies that excluded journalists from a controversial rally in August.
With another rally scheduled on Nov. 18, the groups encouraged city officials to make “significant changes” to comply with the First Amendment while ensuring public safety.
In a joint October 24 letter to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Police Commissioner William Evans, the groups — the New England First Amendment Coalition, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the New England chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Massachusetts — requested a meeting to discuss how the city can provide security while also protecting First Amendment rights.
“The press has a right to be where members of the public are,” the groups wrote. “We stand ready to engage in a dialogue about methods to protect public safety in a manner that comports with important First Amendment principles.”
Specifically, the groups are asking city officials to do the following:
• Revise press access procedures and make them public no later than Nov. 11.
• Allow close-up access by credentialed journalists to public areas where speakers assemble.
• Ensure that no member of the press is given less access than any member of the public.
“While we appreciate the need for safety, security measures must not infringe on First Amendment rights,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Changes need to be made so the press has access to public demonstrations and can adequately cover them. Journalists must not be excluded again.”
Shortly after a deadly protest in Charlottesville, Va., more than 30,000 demonstrators assembled on the Common on Aug. 19 in response to a rally that was rumored to include white nationalist speakers. City of Boston officials imposed a barricade about 40-50 yards wide to separate the demonstrators from the Common’s Parkman Bandstand where the rally occurred. Officials also denied admission to the rally based on individual viewpoints and prevented journalists from providing essential media coverage.
“Journalists couldn’t hear what the rally participants were saying, interview the participants or document in any meaningful way what occurred on the Bandstand,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “We need to make sure that access is provided moving forward and journalists are allowed to do their job.”
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.