MRCTV was filming one of our world famous man on the street videos on the sidewalk in front of the National Archives. For those of you who unfamiliar with the Archives, it is the building where the US Constitution is stored and displayed.
We were not reporting from inside of the building or even on the steps of the building. No, we were exercising our First Amendment Right on what we understood to be a public sidewalk.
Towards the end of our report, we were approached by private security guards, one of which told us that we were not allowed to film--even on the sidewalk--without permission from the Archives itself.
Two guards then followed us down the sidewalk as we were leaving, telling us that the sidewalk in front of the Archives was "private property" and that we therefore needed to turn our camera off. Here's the footage we were able to get:
We found this strange and supremely ironic, to say the least.
We scoured the Internet but were unable to find any rules regulating the use of filming on the city sidewalk in front of the Archives anywhere. So, we contacted the Archives via email in an effort to find the regulation that prohibits media from filming on the sidewalk.
At first the media relations people we talked to had no idea as to whether the security officials were warranted in kicking us off the sidewalk. But, finally, they were able to present MRCTV with the obscure code deep within the federal government's "Electronic Code of Regulations" to defend their actions.
As it turned out the sidewalk area where we were filming is the property of the Archives itself not the DC government.
"If you wish to film, photograph, or videotape for news purposes at the National Archives Building (as delineated in §1280.2(a)), the National Archives at College Park, or the Washington National Records Center, you must request permission from the NARA Public Affairs Officer,"
Before media can report from the sidewalk, the hoops they must jump through include the following:
(b) If you wish to film, photograph, or videotape for news purposes at a Presidential library or at a regional records services facility, you must contact the director of the library (see 36 CFR 1253.3 for contact information) or regional records services facility (see 36 CFR 1253.6 for contact information) to request permission.
(c) Your request for permission to film, photograph, or videotape for news purposes must contain the following information:
(1) The name of the organization you are working for;
(2) Areas you wish to film, photograph, or videotape;
(3) Documents, if any, you wish to film;
(4) The purpose of the project you are working on;
(5) What you intend to do with the film, photograph, or videotape; and
(6) How long you will need to complete your work on NARA property.
(d) You must request permission at least one week in advance of your desired filming date. If you make a request within a shorter time period, we may not be able to accommodate your request.
MRCTV has done video reports all over the DC metropolitan area. From the Capitol grounds to the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and in front of the Supreme Court. But, the only times we have been ordered not to film on the sidewalk in front of a federal building were when we were at:
- The White House (which provides a separate area next to the sidewalk from which you can conduct interviews) and
- The National Archives where "Freedom of the Press" itself is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."
While technically, MRCTV was not abiding by federal regulations, we were quite surprised when were informed of the multitude of rules that media must follow simply to report from in front of this particular federal building. Are these regulations really in tune with the access that is required to be granted to the press by the First Amendment?
For what purpose this particular regulation is in place remains unclear to us.