Pa. congressman bars audio, video at town meetings

Lou Barletta, a Northeastern Pennsylvania congressman, says constituents, but not their cameras or audio recorders, are welcome at his town hall meetings.  YouTube videos capturing scenes like this one at a notorious Arlen Specter town meeting in 2009 have prompted some lawmakers to institute an anti-taping policy at events they hold.

Barletta, a first-term Republican congressman from Pennsylvania’s 11th District, is the latest. His communications director, Shawn Kelly, explained the reasoning: “We establish ground rules for meetings that are held with the public.  This is one of the ground rules.  Constituents have expressed concern that comments they make during these forums are put on YouTube or taken out of context or will be edited in a way that potentially embarasses them.”Terry Mutchler, who heads the state’s Office of Open Records, agreed that some citizens are not used to being recorded, and may fear the slicing and dicing of audio or video, that can make people sound more — or less — intelligent.

She said a lone lawmaker is not a public body and is not subject to the “sunshine laws” that govern federal or state agencies.

But she’s still not a big fan of such bans:

“At the end of day when we all step out of our homes, whether we’re a citizen engaging in town meeting or whether we are a congressman holding it, I think it’s often a mistake to try and put any kind of restraint on who can view that and who can see it.”

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