By Zach Carter
In a stunning break with First Amendment policy, House Republicans directed Capitol Hill police to detain a highly regarded documentary crew that was attempting to film a Wednesday hearing on a controversial natural gas procurement practice. Initial reports from sources suggested that an ABC News camera was also prevented from taping the hearing; ABC has since denied that they sent a crew to the hearing.
Josh Fox, director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Gasland” was taken into custody by Capitol Hill police this morning, along with his crew, after Republicans objected to their presence, according to Democratic sources present at the hearing. The meeting of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment had been taking place in room 2318 of the Rayburn building.
HuffPost has obtained exclusive video of the arrest of Josh Fox. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, can be heard at the end of the clip asking Republican Chairman Andy Harris (R-Md.) to halt the arrest and permit Fox to film the public hearing. Harris denies Miller’s request as Fox is escorted out of the hearing in handcuffs.
WATCH Capitol Hill Police Arrest a Journalist for Filming a Public Hearing:
“Gasland” received strong critical acclaim and takes a critical eye toward the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a process in which several tons of highly pressurized water and chemicals are injected into the ground, allowing valuable natural gas to escape. The practice is decried by ecological experts for destroying ecosystems and polluting groundwater. The energy industry keeps the actual content of fracking chemicals secret.
Fox had hoped to film Wednesday’s hearing for a follow-up to “Gasland.” Fox told HuffPost later Wednesday evening, “We did get his staff on the phone, they never returned the phone call,” referring to staffers for Chairman Harris. “This is not transparency. This is a lockout and it’s bad. It’s the people’s House, after all. We went through the proper channels to arrange to tape this hearing. We have taped congressional hearings before and we’ve been turned down before, but I disagree with the policy. Anyone who says they’re a journalist is a journalist. It’s called the First Amendment. It’s the freedom of the press, and that is fundamental to our core identity as the United States of America.”
Hearings are open to the public, and any citizen can attend. Regulations only govern the use of cameras. Even under an extreme adherence to the rules, Fox’s camera could have been confiscated or disabled without subjecting him to arrest. And while Fox did not have formal Capitol Hill credentials, such formalities are rarely enforced against high-profile journalists. Temporary passes are easy to obtain, and if Republicans had objected on procedural grounds, they could have simply sent the crew to the front desk, rather than ordering police to arrest journalists. The right to a free press is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Documentary crews are almost never denied access to public meetings of elected government officials.