California: Journalist arrested for attempting to videotape public meeting on marine life protection

A Fish and Game warden arrested a journalist for videotaping a meeting of a state agency created to protect the ocean from pollution and development.  -db

April 25, 2010
By John Lewallen

Independent video journalist David Gurney has a powerful sense of duty: to create a video record of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPAI), and to speak politely and in turn at public MLPA meetings.

David Gurney was forcibly removed by a Fish and Game Warden from the MLPA North Coast Regional Stakeholders Group public meeting in his home town, Fort Bragg, California. Immediately handcuffed, Gurney, 57, was hauled away in a Fish and Game pickup truck and charged with “Disrupting an Assembly and Unable To Follow Commands.”

“I began filming at the opening of the meeting on Tuesday,” Gurney recalls. “The presenter put up a slide in his PowerPoint presentation that said no video taping, audio taping or pictures would be allowed. At that point, Ken Wiseman, Executive Director of the MLPAI, yelled out, ‘Would Mr. Gurney step out, because he is videotaping right now!’ The presenter stopped the meeting and asked me to turn off the camera. I said that as far as I knew, his request would be a violation of the Brown Act, which specifically permits unobtrusive recording of public meetings.

“Then Ken Wiseman came in front of me and threatened that if I didn’t turn off the camera I would be forcibly removed from the meeting. So I shut the camera off.”

Director Wiseman has said that California state open meeting laws, including the Brown Act and the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, do not apply to the MLPAI process of setting up Marine Protected Areas, because the process is “advisory” to the state government. And yet the state is supplying scientists, advisors and armed Fish and Game Wardens as security guards for public MLPAI meetings. Many feel the blurring of the lines between private and public interests has opened the floodgates for corruption, and illegal private influence of the democratic process is running rampant in the MLPAI.

California’s open meeting laws guarantee that citizens and members of the press have a right to keep track of what goes on in public process, and will not be harassed at public meetings. Yet the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, funded by the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, often has secret, unrecorded meetings, changes the rules of their process at whim, and abides by the laws of their own choosing.

David Gurney soon saw that something fishy was happening at the unrecorded April 20 and 21 meeting of the North Coast Regional Stakeholders Group (RSG).

“Suddenly, after telling me to shut down the camera, the MLPAI team announced that the 34-member RSG was being divided into two groups, to make two separate plans for Marine Protected Areas. The staff read off names of RSG members to be put in either the “Ruby” or the “Sapphire” sub-group of the North Coast Regional Stakeholders Group. Some RSG members objected to this, because the RSG had voted 12-6 against dividing the group in this way, at their previous meeting in Crescent City.”

The MLPAI team abhors unity. The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 mandates a single process, directed by California state agencies with thorough legislative oversight, to make Marine Protected Areas to enhance California’s fisheries. The privatized process run by the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, 555 Capitol Mall, Sacramento, is a sophisticated human management experiment based on divide-and-rule, with no legislative oversight, and motives quite different from the intention of the 1999 Act.

“I quickly did a quick cover shot of each room, to reflect how the RSG had been divided,” David Gurney recalled. “I was being watched, and as I filmed, I was immediately told to stop filming, to which I agreed.”

Gurney spoke for a minute during a lull on the first day of the RSG meeting. “I said I felt the proceedings were being conducted illegally, and that I had not given up my First Amendment right to freedom of speech by coming to their meeting as a member of the public.”

Witnesses agree with Gurney’s account that “I kept my mouth shut the rest of the two days, until about three o’clock Wednesday. After another member of the public had spoken, I raised my hand and was acknowledged by the facilitator. I asked a very quick question about the MLPAI addressing issues of ocean industrialization, an important topic.”

“While my question was being answered, I was very surprised to be approached by a DFG Warden, who began to physically grab me, although I was cooperating with his request to escort me out of the room. I was outraged to have been forcibly escorted out of the meeting, and am distressed about being arrested and falsely accused of disrupting the meeting for attempting to establish a historical record of the MLPAI, and for asking a legitimate and well-intentioned question.”

Copyright 2010 San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center

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One Comment

  • During our city council meetings several council members have access to emailing lobbyists either through their PDA or Laptop computer. The comments that they may are undisclosed and often if they (the council) is asked about we are either told it their private PDA or that it is not pertinent. Those communications are unavailable to the public. I would like to have our charter in Long Beach open up or create a statewide initiative to close the loophole. How can I do this.

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