What Happens if the Media Defies White House Camera Ban?

Reporters could be expelled because they probably lack a First Amendment right to film White House briefings, experts say

CNN host Don Lemon suggested this week that the White House press corps defy the White House camera ban, and turn on their cameras during the daily briefings.

Reporters could certainly do that, but the White House would be within its rights to kick them out because reporters probably don’t have a First Amendment right to film or even attend the briefings, experts said.

“Having a seat at a White House briefing is a privilege, not a right,” Lucy Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland journalism school, told TheWrap.

“The White House writes the rules,” Dalglish said. “If the networks turned on their cameras, my guess is that the entire network would be indefinitely expelled from the briefings. Credentials would be yanked.”

The White House has held 10 off-camera briefings and five on-camera briefings during the month of June, according to a tweet by CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller.

At least reporters would not break any laws if they secretly taped.  “I’m not sure any law would be broken if the the cameras were turned on surreptitiously,” Dalglish said.  That’s because the District of Columbia is a “one party” jurisdiction that allows a person to record their conversations with another person, she said.

Even if it’s not unconstitutional, Dalglish finds the camera ban extremely frustrating.

“The whole thing is just damned dumb,” she said. “This is the White House’s way of showing the press corps who is in charge. Unfortunately, they seem to be taking things from the Supreme Court playbook,” she said, referring to the Supreme Court’s long-standing ban on cameras during oral arguments or judicial reading of decisions.

Kyu Ho Youm, a media law professor at the University of Oregon journalism school, agreed that reporters would have a tough time arguing that they have a constitutional right to use cameras in the briefings.

“I’m not sure if ban on cameras in the White House briefing room raises a serious First Amendment issue,” he told TheWrap.

“It’s undoubtedly a naked discrimination against the broadcasting media,” he said. “But the White House’s anti-TV journalism tactics, albeit manipulative, do not necessarily violate press freedom as such.”

White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason wrote an email to his members last week to report that he met with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to protest the camera-free briefings, according to Politico.

Mason said the White House press corps is “not satisfied” with the White House putting a halt on their daily, on-camera briefings.

“The WHCA’s position on this issue is clear: we believe strongly that Americans should be able to watch and listen to senior government officials face questions from an independent news media, in keeping with the principles of the First Amendment and the need for transparency at the highest levels of government,” Mason wrote to his members.

“We are not satisfied with the current state-of-play, and we will work hard to change it,” Mason wrote. “In the meantime, I have asked that reporters be able to use audio from all gaggles going forward. We will keep you posted as developments occur.”

President Bill Clinton’s press secretary Mike McCurry was the first press secretary to allow cameras to daily White House briefings.