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30 October 2007

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Donald Giannatti

Umm... ok, but you also cannot shoot a 35mm camera with a telephoto lens, nor drop a tripod, or use a view camera without a permit.

I was shooting pics and had a ranger tell me that because I was shooting with a 'professional camera" and would have to desist because I didn't have a permit. I was on vacation. A friend of mine, and a good guy, was really hassled when he was shooting at the Grand Canyon because he had a view camera and therefor had to have been shooting professionally according to the rangers.

This gives me a different view of the above. I assure you that there are hundreds of photographers who could share similar examples. No sets, no models, no assistants... just shooting and being stopped because we looked professional.

Dan

You mean that, in an organization with 391 distinct units in 49 states, 1 federal district, and 5 territories, heavily dependent on hastily-trained seasonal employees, there is some confusion about what is and isn't permissible? And that's an argument against developing a proper service-wide policy?

Jim

Uh, that would a "yes". Your question implies, among other things, that the proposed limitations on the first amendment are part of a "proper" service-wide policy in the first place. I think that is the point of the objections currently being made to the proposal -- they're not.

You say "If what you're doing is inappropriate for the park, they won't let you do it." I say, you have a lot more faith in the subjective judgment of the park service. Who decides what is "inappropriate". Yes, of course, the subjective park ranger. Spent too much money on the camera you take on vacation? Guess what? the park service guy that can't afford one himself figures you must be a "professional" and using it for commercial purposes. A photo of Half Dome taken on a tripod or with too nice a camera becomes illegal without a permit? No thanks. It's a bit too much like letting someone decide on my reading list....

Good site, btw, worthy of the Instalink --

Dan

Having tracked down and read the press release that spurred the post whence came the link, I'm even more convinced there's nothing there - just journalists whining about paperwork.

You're right, Jim, it's bad mojo to have an seasonal interpreter, or sometimes even a seasonal law enforcement ranger, making spot decisions about what's an appropriate use. That's why you need a permit before doing any actual commercial filming or photography. Permit decisions are the province of the Superintendent, or his designee, such questions being specifically his appointed duty to resolve. That's how bureaucracy works. It's also why you can't get a special use permit issued on demand, on a Sunday afternoon.

You're absolutely right that some rangers make bad on-the-fly decisions about what is or isn't commercial. Again, that's the inevitable result of depending largely on hastily-trained seasonal employees for your visitor-contact staff. Thus it hath always been in the parks.

According to the regulations, there is no justification for restrictions based on camera type or tripod, or otherwise. Looking at the regulation itself, Bona fide commercial work needs a permit. Amateurs may also need a permit if using "models, sets, or props or requesting access to an area to film or photograph which is... not open to the general public." Naturally, there are also safety and public order rules. (Photographers, in particular, seem to have a mental block where safety rules are concerned.)

So the initial letter is complaining that journalists, might have to get permits and pay cost-recovery fees, except in the case of breaking news. My heart bleeds, but that just doesn't justify any public wailing. The Knoxnews post frets that park managers will be able to determine what's 'newsworthy' and who is a 'journalist.' Bah. You can be filming for your 4th-grade social studies presentation, and so long as you're not impacting the resources, or mitigating your impacts, you'll happily be granted a permit. Permits are not based on who you are - just what you'll be doing.

Anecdotal accounts of hassling from The Man are irrelevant to the proposed rule change. (Actually, I'm amazed at the story from Mr. Gianatti's friend. It's practically impossible to find a ranger on the Grand Canyon rim.)

Kenneth Pike

While I think you're largely correct, Dan--and certainly defer to your greater experience with our national parks!--I'd like to consider the "anecdotal accounts of hassling from The Man" at greater length.

Specifically, what would you suggest is the appropriate response from a private citizen to a ranger who has made a snap decision about the professional look of one's camera? In other words, while these regulations may be facially valid, do they also take overzealous rangers "off the hook" for exceeding their authority and, as agents of the government, interfering with private speech?

I would suggest that my initial response to a ranger would be, "Please tell me what I am doing wrong." But an unreasonable ranger's next step might well be to put me through the hassle of finding someone with more authority to countermand the overzealous ranger's decision, or have me ejected from the park.

In other words, I'm willing to accept that the reasons behind the regulations are facially valid, but if they relieve rangers of responsibility for interfering with us untrustworthy civilians, they could potentially create a situation where someone is paying a fine or getting ejected because they refused to comply with a ranger's unfounded but, under the regulations, arguably "reasonable" request. It happens with police all the time...

Cory

Kenny, if I understand the thrust of your argument, you feel that you should not have to go through "the hassle of finding someone with more authority." I can't sympathize with you.

Rules have to be enforced by someone. Somewhere along the line, one of those someones is going to overstep their authority - it's human nature. You're not just finding someone with more authority, you're reporting the overstep. Best case scenario, said ranger didn't understand the regs, and now he does. Worse case scenario, the ranger just doesn't have the mentality to work in law enforcement, and gets fired for hassling the paying customers. *Worst* case scenario, visitor decides it's not worth his time to do something about it, but it's still worth his time to whine nonstop to everyone who would listen about how unfair anonymous ranger was to him. The visitor has accomplished nothing but to paint NPS with a brush composed of a single park ranger.

To emphasize, nothing in this gets rangers "off the hook." If you exceed your authority multiple times, you will cease to have authority to exceed - but only if visitors do something about it. If they don't, they clearly don't care enough about their infringed rights in the first place.

Kenneth Pike

Well, the thrust of my comment is more to ask a question than make an argument (i.e. "What's the best course of action for a regular joe who just wants to take some pictures?").

What Jim's anecdotes demonstrate is a growing problem in American law enforcement, whether we're talking about the military, the police, or (apparently) the park rangers. While I agree that it is the civic duty of every good American to fight and report the abuse of power wherever they encounter it, what I was attempting to point out is that a regulation that makes it easier for park rangers to do their (real) job can also, however inadvertently, make it easier for those same rangers to get away with abusing their power, i.e. it makes reporting abuse more difficult and less effective.

Cory

My mistake - teach me to respond to comments during CIS class. I haven't read the actual proposed regulation, but as I understand it, it's an attempt to clarify/codify rules that already exist. The controversy stems from journalists feeling they should be exempt from, well, pretty much anything that makes their job difficult (Speaking of growing problems...) If anything, such a regulation would reduce the number of situations where amateurs get hassled by park rangers, not increase it.

Dan

This whole question of abuse of authority is tangent to the initial point of the post, which is that the changes to DOI regulations are nothing new or unreasonable. But tangents have their value, too.

When confronted with a park ranger who is, in your opinion, overstepping his authority, there will often be no instant recourse. There rarely is, with law enforcement officers, especially in remote areas. But unless you make the colossal mistake of breaking a serious law, there will also be no serious negative outcomes. He'll tell you to stop, and keep an eye to see that you do. Even when he's wrong on a point of law or regulation, he's still a commissioned federal law enforcement officer. Be polite.

If you're at an overlook shooting pictures, or in the backcountry, there won't be a supervisor handy. But if you can get to a visitor center or ranger station, stop in and explain the situation to any staff member on permanent status. They'll get you to the right person.

Often, vacationers don't have time in their schedule for 2 hours of driving around explaining themselves to supervisors. If you can't take the time, or nobody is available, stop in at a visitor center, ranger station, or entrance station, and get the Superintendent's business card. Give him a call, write a letter, or send an e-mail. Give a detailed, accurate account, including the ranger's full name. It's right there on his shirt. You'll get a very quick, serious response, so long as you're polite and helpful.

Dad

I'm impressed that -this- subject received so many comments. Curious.

"What Jim's anecdotes demonstrate is a growing problem in American law enforcement..." - ah, the narrow perspective of youth and inexperience (yes Kenneth, I know how old you are ;o). While it may seem to be "growing", it is in fact much better than it has been in prior years and generations - precisely because of specified limits and clarifying regulations, as well as the glare of the public spotlight.

What Kenneth is observing is simply, IMO, the nature of man. I.e., "We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." It's not that law enforcement has growing problems, it's that the same old problems continue to plague us - being human. We are overall, in western society, much better at balancing proper enforcement of laws with human rights than we have at any time in our history (I -won't- get started with non-enforcement of laws that should be enforced; that's a different topic).

BTW, it's nice to see you old friends continuing to duke it out intellectually over the years.

Dad

BTW, back to Dan's original thesis (yes, I was being tangential too), I have a stake in this game. I'm a semi-professional photographer who shoots in national parks (among many locations). The rules they are attempting to codify or clarify are perfectly reasonable. As Dan says (or intimates; I'm not sure), these codifications are there to prevent confusion for both the photograhers/journalists -and- park employees.

Dan rightly notes that many employees are lightly trained, to everyone's detriment - but, there we are. I believe that it can be held incumbant upon professional journalists to be clearly aware of regulations, and hold to them. They're supposed to be "professionals" for a reason (yeah, I know we're discussing journalists here). I am aware that many locations I wish to photograph require permission (and sometimes a Property Release signed by someone of authority). Perhaps it is in the best interest of even amateur photographers who -appear- professional (they should know who they are; e.g., Donald and friends) to keep a copy of the regulations with them to help under-educated rangers learn the details. As much as that might seem unfair...

Kenneth Pike

Hey, it's always nice to be referred to as "youth." Three kids, a mortgage, and the inability to even pretend that I'm in my "mid-twenties" piled up in the last 18 months to make me feel positively old.

I apologize, I'm going to get really tangential here, but I promise to tie it back in. d^_^b

I agree that the abuse of power is nothing new, though in my defense what I perceive as a "growing problem" does not preclude the possibility that it has been a problem before. Human problems rise and fall like the tide, only to rise again--an observation at the heart of hundreds of splendid quotes from clever people over the centuries. At present, I think the abuse of power is in a "growing" phase, though it is not as bad as it has been (or, for that matter, as good).

This is at least in part due to the realities of global terrorism shifting power from the federalist, libertarian ideology that controlled the Republican party in the 1980's to the centralized-government, strong-executive ideology we see more pronounced today. Because the so-called opposition has for decades embraced the strong-central-government philosophy (though for radically different reasons), the result is that the one thing everyone in D.C. agrees to these days is that government power trumps individual liberty. They fight about whether that power should be employed to regulate firearms or engage in wiretapping or or censor video games or limit the amount of hair gel you can take onto a plane... but no one seriously suggests that maybe there are things government officials should just leave be.

Now, when you get weird situations where (for example) ferry officials try to confiscate books "for safety reasons," unless there is a plain statutory reason for the official's behavior, it would be odd to suggest that an anecdotal abuse of power is proof of rising fascism or what have you. But when such abuses appear to be on the rise at high levels of government, every other abuse, no matter how small, becomes of greater concern--and every statute, however technical or procedural, takes on an air of menace.

A bit of pedantry: Edmund Burke once observed, "In other countries the people, more simple and of a less mercurial caste, judge of an ill-principle in government only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate evil and judge of the pressure of the grievance by the badness of the principle. They augur misgovernment at a distance, and sniff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze." Thomas Jefferson notes: "God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion [as Shays']. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty."

And finally, to tie this all together. I am persuaded that Dan's critique of the SPJ is informative, accurate, and timely. And for myself, I am a good deal less concerned with the minor abuses of isolated park rangers than with the rampant corruption evident at the national level. But I'm simultaneously grateful for the SPJ's watchful eye, and for the shrill and often mistaken activism of similar organizations. If nothing else, they make for great bone-scribing a la Kipling:

"Straight on the glittering ice-field, by the caves of the lost Dordogne,
Ung, a maker of pictures, fell to his scribing on bone
Even to mammoth editions. Gaily he whistled and sung,
Blessing his tribe for their blindness. Heed ye the Story of Ung!"

Dad

Yep, "youth" it is Kenneth. ;0) We also had three kids and a mortgage when we were your age, so I know what you mean. Just remember, you're as old as you feel (oh, yeah, that's probably not very reassuring).

Having now lived in a couple other countries and worked in many more, in spite of all its faults this country is still the greatest from the micro to the macro level (IMHO). You say you're concerned about "the rampant corruption evident at the national level", as well we should all -and always- be. Because it will always be there; tis the nature of man and large bureaucracies. Kinda reinforces the encouragement of small government - less to corrupt. It's more often that it's the local "official" (be it park ranger or other) that has a more immediate impact of the individual and his/her liberty. They're also more likely to be acting outside of scrutiny, and so you have little or no recourse when impinged upon. On the grand national stage, the spotlights are brighter.

You bring up Jefferson's rebellion quote (that, I believe, is often misquoted as 'revolution'). Nice of you to add the [as Shays']; it adds context. Though men like Washington and Samuel Adams were not at all happy with this turn of events, the states' and 'national' governments were in a bit of a mess and this rebellion helped lead to the establishment of the Constitution and a much-better-organized union. The rebellion was attempted in order to right perceived wrongs. Fair enough.

A latter portion of Jefferson's letter is the infamous, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." Oh, has -this- been seized upon by too many of the wrong peoples! This was written a couple of years before the horribly bloody French Revolution. Although I don't know it, I suspect that when Jefferson viewed what became of his beloved France - and with age and wisdom behind him - he undoubtedly tempered those early sentiments (particularly when -he- was president, tho good on him re: the Alien and Sedition Acts). France has never been right since (don't think it was before, either).

I certainly think our country has weathered many storms relatively well, considering the frailties of men and the nature of representative republics. ALWAYS SUSPECT PARK RANGERS though; I know one of 'em, and he's mighty suspicious!

I'll leave my posts at this. I'm just rattling on. I can't keep up with you young whippersnappers...

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