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L.A. Council president apologizes for rules restricting media, promises to rework policy

May 24, 2010 |  4:43 pm
Three leaders of the Los Angeles City Council agreed Monday to rework new rules that restrict the activities of news reporters and camera operators during the council’s public meetings.

During an hourlong discussion with roughly a dozen representatives of the news media, Council President Eric Garcetti apologized for creating regulations that have impeded reporters’ efforts to gather news. He assured reporters that they would still be allowed to speak with city employees, including elected officials, during those meetings.

Nevertheless, Garcetti said the council’s leadership – which includes Councilwoman Jan Perry and Councilman Dennis Zine – would continue to ask reporters to stay away from the aisles immediately behind the chairs of council members. And he would not say whether reporters will be allowed in the future to ask council members directly for interviews during council meetings.

"I’ll have to circle back with the council on that,” he told the group.

Garcetti, Perry and Zine contend that the new rules, which went into effect two weeks ago, are needed to make the meetings more orderly. Zine, in particular, has complained that it is difficult for council members to hear the debate because so many people are talking around them. “The moment we let things relax too much is the moment we lose control of the meeting,” Garcetti said.

Claudia Peschiutta, a KNX-AM radio reporter who is also an associate board member with the Society of Professional Journalists, said the news media are not responsible for noise problems on the council floor. Peschiutta said in an e-mail to her colleagues that she would continue to press for more media access during the public sessions.
“I think [Monday’s] meeting was helpful and am cautiously optimistic council leaders will take steps to ease restrictions,” she wrote in the e-mail.

Relations have been strained in recent days between some council members and the news media. On Friday, KFI-AM radio reporter Eric Leonard said a security officer assigned to the council floor shoved him and put his hand over his camera in an effort to block him from taking pictures. That incident occurred, Leonard said, during a meeting where security officers were trying to move unruly audience members who were upset with the council’s decision to delay and therefore  effectively reject a moratorium on rent increases.

Garcetti said he told Leonard that he “absolutely had the right to be taking pictures.” He also said he spoke directly to the officer in question about the incident. “He had no right to do that,” Garcetti said.

The officer, Michael Johnson, referred questions from The Times to the General Services Department, the agency that employs him. The head of the General Services security force did not respond to a request for comment.

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall