A&A: Does Ohio law allow videotaping of council meetings?

Q: I have a local AM talk radio show in Ohio. Recently, I decided to visit my local council meetings and digitally record them on my computer. This seemed to have made a certain councilman angry. My question is, that I consider the act of recording a public council meeting and then airing portions of them on my show to completely legal. Is this legal? And can I also post these recordings on the internet?

A: In 1988, an opinion by the Ohio Attorney General concluded that a public body may not absolutely prohibit the audio and video recording of its meetings but that reasonable regulations may be adopted to ensure the orderly conduct of meetings. 1988 Ohio Atty.Gen.Ops. No. 88-087.

The Court of Appeals of Ohio later rejected an outright ban on recording by a township board of trustees. Kline v. Davis, 2001 Ohio 2625 (Ohio Ct. App., Lawrence County Dec. 11, 2001)

“Numerous factors may be considered in formulating a regulation, such as requiring the equipment to be silent, unobtrusive, or self-contained. However, the restrictions must also be narrowly tailored so as not to infringe upon any statutory or constitutional rights. Generally speaking, though, a blanket prohibition on recording a public meeting, such as the one adopted by the Elizabeth Township Board of Trustees in this case, does not appear to be justified. In keeping with the rationale of the attorney general’s opinion, it appears that appellees could have adopted reasonable restrictions upon recording meetings, but that an outright ban is not in compliance with R.C. 121.22.” (internal citations omitted); see also McVey v. Carthage Twp. Trs., 2005 Ohio 2869, P1 (Ohio Ct. App., Athens County June 1, 2005).

Under this reasoning, the question as to any restrictions on recording public meetings would depend on whether the restrictions were reasonably tailored to maintain orderly meetings (versus, in particular, being targeted against the dissemination of a particular message or viewpoint).

In addition, it is not clear what legal basis a government body would have to restrict the subsequent dissemination of a lawfully made recording of a public meeting.

Holme Roberts & Owen LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to First Amendment Coalition hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.