I was broadcasting my show live from in front of the Civic Center, where the town hall took place, from 3-6 yesterday afternoon. I had received permission from the City of Warner Robins to do that broadcast; my show was never in question. The question was one that we had originally brought up with Marshall’s office when the meeting was to be held at the (much smaller) VFW post: could we broadcast the town hall meeting live?
After the meeting was moved to the Civic Center (a government building), and after still being told by Marshall’s office that, as of Friday, they had not made a decision as to whether we would be allowed to broadcast the meeting live, we decided to assert our First Amendment right to broadcast the town hall. It also helped that the sound engineer for the meeting is also my broadcast engineer, so he gave us a direct link to the sound board inside the center that was already hooked up when I went on air at 3 yesterday.
At about 3:15 I got a text message from my board operator in studio that we were NOT going to be allowed to broadcast the town hall meeting, per the Congressman himself. At my next commercial break I called Marshall’s chief of staff, Doug Moore, who informed me that we would not be allowed to broadcast because other media outlets, namely 13WMAZ, had also been denied the right to broadcast. They claim that it was a logistics issue (i.e. it’s not possible for everybody to do it so nobody can do it), but offered to allow us to record the meeting and replay it later. I informed him that recording the meeting required exactly the same amount of effort and resources on our part and their part (which was exactly zero for them) as broadcasting it live, and he still refused to allow us to broadcast, despite the fact that it was a public meeting in a government building.
Having already discussed the matter with our company’s President, Sen. Cecil Staton, and the head of event security with the Warner Robins Police Department (who, of course, would have to be the person to enforce the orders to take us off the air), I informed Mr. Moore that, if necessary, we would contact our First Amendment attorney to protect our rights as the press. He told me that I “might have to take that step.”
After updating Sen. Staton on the situation, I went back on the air and told my listeners that we were being blocked from broadcasting a public event in a government building and encouraged them to pick up their phones and call Marshall’s offices in Macon and in DC, and gave those phone numbers. Apparently my listeners responded strongly, because I was told by my General Manager and my board operator that the phone rang off the hook from people calling the station to report that they had called Marshall’s office and that either they were getting answering machines (which means we had overloaded their lines) or they were talking to somebody who did not know what was going on. Apparently the information had not been passed around Marshall’s offices, so I told my listeners to specifically ask for Mr. Moore in the DC office.
Less then 30 minutes after being denied permission to broadcast the town hall meeting, I received another phone call from Mr. Moore informing me that 13WMAZ would be streaming the town hall live on the internet, and that we would be allowed to broadcast the town hall live, which we did with no problems (in fact, I stayed outside and listened to it on the radio, which some people who exited the meeting told me sounded better than from inside).
The end result is that Mr. Marshall’s office ultimately caved to the dual forces of public pressure and the threat of the law, and the free press was allowed to operate.
Program Director/Talk Show Host
News/Talk WNNG The Patriot