By Jim Powers, Editor, Tyler County Booster
U.S. Representative Brian Babin held a Town Hall meeting Monday, July 20, at the Lions Club building in Woodville. Town Hall meetings are an interesting dynamic, a relatively unstructured opportunity for constituents to interact directly with their representative. That interaction has always been hard to convey with the written word. The written story is either a list of dozens of questions and answers, which many readers will not look at, or a short summary of the main points with context missing.
The Booster has for several years tried to overcome that limitation by covering political events with video posted to Facebook and our YouTube channel. We planned to cover Representative Babin's public Town Hall meeting by shooting video of the event. Because the meeting was held at 7 p.m., which might prevent some older people from attending, video would allow them unfiltered access.
A couple of hours before the meeting, we received an email from Representative Babin's Press Secretary telling us that we would not be allowed to shoot video during the Q&A part of the meeting. The expressed concern was that people would not feel comfortable asking questions if a video camera were present. Ultimately, after a couple of email exchanges, I received an email from Babin's District Director, saying that an audio recording was o.k., (but still not video) and that they had "worked out a way to handle the privacy of folks."
I have shot video at numerous political forums in Tyler County. In none of those events have folks in attendance seemed intimidated or uncomfortable because a video camera was present. These events have at times been contentious and frank.
Most people do not attend a public Town Hall format meeting with any expectation of privacy. Government representatives should seek transparency when dealing with constituents. Because this was a public meeting, open to anyone, with no expectation of privacy for those in attendance, it is unclear why Representative Babin chose to prohibit shooting video. When I questioned the decision, I got a reply only restating the prohibition.
The Tyler County Booster is committed to using the full range of technology available to provide Tyler County citizens with the news. We offer coverage in print, through our website, through a digital edition of the Booster, on Facebook and through video on our YouTube channel. Many people, in fact, prefer video to text and our video has proven very popular. A free press and transparent government are essential to a functioning democracy. Hopefully, Representative Babin will reconsider limiting media coverage of his public meetings.