On October 21, 2013, the city of Dallas, TX hosted a community town hall meeting in the conference room of a police station, announcing it in advance in a press release. But, despite the public nature of the meeting, one group of people was not welcome. This wasn’t discrimination based on class, gender, or race; no, the people not invited to the discussion were the media. As this is technically illegal, the reporters called city hall, and after 40 minutes of work the unofficial ban was overturned.
Once inside, the reporters found a discussion about crime in the community and the possibility of opening a new alternative high school. Not so controversial (unlike past town hall meetings). It wasn’t a secrecy issue, either: it was a public meeting and thus cameras were not banned. Any member of the public could have live-tweeted, blogged, or even posted videos of the event to YouTube as it was happening (and, the media could have picked up those posts as evidence if necessary). As area reporter Tristan Hallman wrote, “Basically, the decision to ban people came down to who employed them.”
So why is this important, if they eventually did get into the meeting? The situation forces us to think about the role of media in society. As an idealist and a college journalist (two things that may go hand-in-hand), I’d like to think that the media should be the truth tellers, even when that truth is a run-of-the-mill community meeting. I recognize that the news media we consume have an extremely powerful affect on the way we perceive the world. So, in this case, did the Dallas Police Department. Those in power might prefer to have the media cover their actions only when it is personally convenient. It would certainly be more efficient and less confusing, but when the media is controlled by the government, that’s a police state.
As it turns out, a recent high-profile shooting has the police chief tired of talking to the press. But again, Hallman says, “Of course, we did ask about the shooting after the meeting… But we got the chance to ask, and he got the chance to decline comment.” Our country was instead founded on freedom of the press. This doesn’t mean that the media will always have access to the information, but it means that they should have a fair chance, as a member of the public—especially when the information is made available to the rest of the public. If it doesn’t play out this way, the media has a right to protest and change that unfair treatment. Let’s handle this the American way, with more meetings, discussion, and input. And Chili’s.
What do you think about this story? Have you noted any examples of silenced media in your community?
–Gracie McKenzie, A15