Whenever a journalist’s ability to report is called into question, everyone must take notice. Any attempt to weaken our Constitutional right to free press is a step toward a more closed, secretive society in which a democratic government cannot function. This is the context in which we must call attention to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission’s misinterpretation of its own rules and ask for clarification on where members stand on freedom of the press.
Hatchet photographer Joe Gidjunis was nearly kicked out of a public meeting during a Jan. 30 Foggy Bottom ANC meeting. When Gidjunis started taking pictures, ANC Chair Elizabeth Elliott instructed him to stop, then suggested the committee vote on the matter. What she and other members may not understand is the ANC, as a governmental body, has no power to control such matters when it holds public meetings.
While our photographer could have helped prevent the episode by identify himself before the meeting as a member of student media, Elliott gave him little chance to do so when members decided his flash was too disrupting to the already circus-like meeting. Thankfully, ANC Commissioner and GW alumnus Jeff Marootian stepped in to calm the uproar by informing them of Gidjunis’s status as a Hatchet photographer. Elliott then told Gidjunis that he was required to inform the ANC of his attendance before he would be allowed to photograph future events. She and some other board members also told him not to use his flash.
This approach by the ANC is both puzzling and outrageous. The ANC is a public body with public concerns. Last week’s meeting was open by nature, so it is confusing why the ANC would wish to exclude an organization that seeks to educate the public. Keeping journalists of any kind out of a meeting freely attended by the public is unacceptable.
We at The Hatchet are curious about ANC members’ motivations for asking out photographer to leave. We wonder if this is an extension of some residents’ attitude that students belong in some inferior category of adults. We hope that this was just a misunderstanding fueled by ignorance of the First Amendment.
We also question what the ANC was trying to accomplish by making the photographer such an issue. Attempting to kick a journalist out of meetings only stirs up more of a raucous – something the ANC has experienced enough.