Thanks to the Internet, we live in a much smaller world and no one knows that more than politicians, some of whom are caught making dumb comments when they thought no one was listening ... or recording.
This week, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta announced that he was banning the public from using video or audio recording devices at his town meetings. A spokesman for the congressman said the policy was not initiated to keep people from speaking, but as a protection to those who do choose to exercise their free speech at meetings. The policy, he said, gives constituents the freedom to speak without worrying whether or not their comments would show up on the Interent.
The fact that Democrats have denounced the Barletta recording policy should not surprise anyone. Postings on the Internet - some taken out of the context of a comment or speech - provided plenty of political ammunition for both camps in the Barletta-Kanjorski mud-slinging campaigns. Each camp charged the other with recording the gaffes and miss-steps at meetings to make their opponent look bad.
Given the current mood in Washington over hot-button issues like Medicare and Social Security, Barletta has faced some raucous audiences at town hall meetings since taking the legislative seat from his Democratic predecessor. Paul Kanjorski, by the way, relied more on telephone town hall meetings than with face-to-face meetings with constituents. Kanjorski then explained that he wanted to avoid setting himself up "for nuts to hit me with a camera" after some of his comments were spread across the Internet.
Rep. Tom Marino, another Republican congressman in neighboring Lackawanna County, has instituted a similar video camera policy and last week, a man with a video recorder was blocked from entering a town hall meeting. After being disarmed of his recording device, he was allowed to enter the meeting.
According to the Citizen Media Law Project, recording devices are allowed in public meetings (i.e., meetings of a governmental body required to be open to the public by law) in Pennsylvania. Government bodies, however, may place reasonable restrictions on the use of recording devices, including a ban on certain devices, in order to preserve the orderly conduct of its meetings. Concealing a camera or recording equipment is not a good idea.
The Barletta camp has defined its borders when it comes to recording devices. The media can still record his public meetings. But their primary concern is to assure that people can speak freely without being concerned about an edited video clip of them bouncing around the Internet.