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News Link • Activism

Cameraman to Disobey Manchester City Hall Camera Restrictions

What: Demonstration, followed by civil disobedience against mayoral censorship attempt.
When:  Monday, April 8,  6:00p.m - 7:30p.m.  The demonstration starts one hour before a school board meeting.
Why: Mayor & security operative have ordered indie reporter to get permission from authorities, before recording interviews in City Hall's public lobby. See below for details on why that's a concern.
Who:  Dave Ridley from; plus anyone else who values the right to record authorities in public.
How:  First we intend to protest right outside the building on Elm.  Then I intend to enter the lobby with my camera running and without begging permission.  All peaceable folk are invited to join me either inside or outside.
Where:  City Hall, 908 Elm St.,  Manchester, New Hampshire
Contacts:  City Hall (603) 624-6500 /  Ridley: (603) 721-1490,  / Ridley's lawyer Seth Hipple: (603) 856-0202 / Backup contact:  Tara Powell: (603) 440-3654,
Updates, vid of original incident:

On March 26, 2013 Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and a city security officer tried to inappropriately restrict recording in City Hall's public lobby. I was there trying to interview local officials.  When I asked Gatsas a question on camera there, he told me I must get permission from the City Clerk's office before filming!  An enraged security officer shortly appeared and made similar demands.  I captured video of both incidents but felt it necessary to leave the scene to prevent the camera from being seized.  Here's the tape:

This incident marks at least the second attempt by a City Hall employee to limit recording in the public hallways.  Around November 1, 2012...the same security officer approached me upon entering the building:

He asked if I had permission to film and told me I must get clearance from the City Clerk's office before recording a school board meeting.  He also declined to identify himself on request. Again, I'm more interested in the hallway than the meeting itself, since many meetings are already broadcast.  It's important for reporters or average citizens to be able to question officials on camera in the lobbies/hallways adjoining aldermanic chambers. They should also be able to film any questionable activity they see there that is occurring on the taxpayer dime.  For instance, city security illegally approaching them with inappropriate demands!  But trying to restrict recording of an open meeting itself is probably even more controversial than trying to restrict it in the hallways. This anonymous employee did both and the mayor thus far has backed him up.  In any case, the "get permission" demand is a source of concern for several reasons:

1) Complying with such a demand would let the government decide who can record it. Such a power could or would be abused by favoring some media outlets over others, based on their content.  Does the city force mainstream outlets such as the Union Leader and Channel 9 to get permission before running their electronic devices in the hallways and public chambers?  If not, that would indicate inappropriate discrimination is already occurring.  But it puts us all at risk. "First they came for the little media...then they came for the TV towers!"

2) The additional hurdle of getting permission would have a chilling effect on the on the *process* of reporting.  The half hour you might spend requesting and getting half an hour you'd never get back.  And what happens if the Clerk doesn't want you to record the request process?

3) Imagine you're in City Hall and someone does something inappropriate to you or gets in your face.  You try to record it but are arrested for "lacking permission."  That is the future we could be looking at if we don't act.  We don't want this to happen to you.

4) The alleged permission requirement violates Articles 8 and 22 of the New Hampshire Constitution...which enshrine press freedom and the right of access.*

5) NH Attorney General Michael Delaney recently issued a statewide memo arguably forbidding what Gatsas just did, saying:  " the recent past a number of police departments have arrested individuals for audio and or video recording police officers in public engaged in official duties. I want to alert all law enforcement agencies to a recent opinion of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which makes such arrests illegal.”

6) The Gatsas directive, if you want to call it that, violates NH law, specifically RSA 91-A:2 II, which reads:   "Subject to the provisions of RSA 91-A:3, all meetings, whether held in person, by means of telephone or electronic communication, or in any other manner, shall be open to the public. Except for town meetings, school district meetings, and elections, no vote while in open session may be taken by secret ballot. Any person shall be permitted to use recording devices, including, but not limited to, tape recorders, cameras, and videotape equipment, at such meetings."
7) City officials are purportedly big on obeying Washington.  The recent Federal Glik v. Cunniffe ruling reads:  "a citizen's right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public place is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment."

Simon Glik  won a roughly $200K settlement from the City of Boston after its enforcers arrested him for taping authorities in public.   For my part, I've already had to sue the City of Nashua over a 2011 incident where they arrested me while attempting to film outside a Joe Biden event.
That Nashua false arrest and failed prosecution led to its share of demonstrations, and this equally questionable power grab in Manchester will have to face pushback as well. I invite all concerned and peaceable folk to join us at City Hall at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 8.  First we intend to demonstrate outside, then I and perhaps others will enter the building *with* cameras running and *without* asking permission.  All peaceable folk are invited to join me, to go in as shallow or deep as you like, with or without cameras.  I ask that you remain non-disruptive.  I'd also ask that camerapersons remain at various distances from the entrance.   Some close, others across the street.  This will let you set your own level of risk and make it harder for authorities to seize all video of the event.  Live-uploading cameras would be particularly welcome.

In the event of inappropriate interference with this endeavor, "liberty lawyer" Seth Hipple will likely lead the legal defense.  He's nearly undefeated in this area of law.  I would consider suing the City or undertaking some other constructive reaction, and my first choice would again be Hipple's

Restricting recording is like blinding the people. It's an attack on basic human rights and an affront to the First Amendment Gatsas swore he would uphold.  It's also an issue which creates a hill worth dying on.

Dave Ridley
Gonzo Journalist
New Hampshire's #2 YouTube channel

*From the NH Constitution:

"[Art.] 8. [Accountability of Magistrates and Officers; Public’s Right to Know.] All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them. Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted."

"[Art.] 22. [Free Speech; Liberty of the Press.] Free speech and liberty of the press are essential to the security of freedom in a state: They ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved."

Feel free to get in touch with me if you have questions or would like to interview an activist,
Ian Freeman

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Powell Gammill
Entered on:

Bravo to Ridley for standing up for his rights.  It won't stop them from blocking him in the future however.  If you haven't heard they simply and wisely chose to ignore him rather than confront him.  This points to the wisdom of announcing your intentions ahead of time so as to not take them by surprise.

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