Nixon's Opinion Allows Videotaping of Public Meeting

By Lipman, Benjamin A. | St. Louis Journalism Review, June 1996 | Go to article overview

Nixon's Opinion Allows Videotaping of Public Meeting


Lipman, Benjamin A., St. Louis Journalism Review


The videotape camera seems to have become ubiquitous in our society, taping everything from crimes as they occur and the trials of those crimes to cats falling into fish tanks, as well as everything in between. And now, videotape cameras are allowed in public meetings, according to an opinion issued by Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon.

Nixon's opinion was issued in response to Senator Harry Wiggins' (D., Dist. 10) asking whether a city council has the authority to prohibit citizens from videotaping an open meeting. Senator Wiggins has not returned phone calls inquiring why he posed the question to the attorney general.

In his opinion, Nixon discusses at some length court cases from several states other than Missouri, but all Nixon specifically says about Missouri is "that a city council does not have the authority to prohibit citizens from videotaping an open meeting in an unobtrusive manner." Moreover, the opinion provides scant details about what is and what is not "unobtrusive." The opinion did discuss case law from other states, and, presumably, the attorney general's Office would follow that case law, but Nixon never comments on the details.

The basic right of individuals and the media to attend meetings of public governmental bodies is derived from Chapter 610 of the Missouri statutes, commonly known as the "Sunshine Law." The term "sunshine" is taken from a quote by United States Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who wrote, "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. . . ." As Nixon pointed out, according to the Missouri Sunshine Law, it is the public policy of Missouri that meetings and deliberations of governmental bodies be open to the public. However, the Sunshine Law does not specifically discuss videotaping, and no Missouri court has addressed the issue. Therefore, media and individuals who want to videotape a public meeting, such as a city council, are left no protection other than the attorney general's opinion.

Under the Sunshine Law, any public governmental body can seek a formal opinion from the attorney general to clarify any doubt the body might have about the legality of closing any meeting. …

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