Splitting Hairs on Speech

I always worry when a government body starts to sound philosophic. As Ivan noted in his post, the Department of the Interior is struggling with some fundamental questions like “what is commercial speech” and how can we regulate it?

Within the proposal the agency defines commercial filming as

“the digital or film recording of a visual image or sound recording by a person, business, or other entity for a market audience, such as for a documentary, television or feature film, advertisement, or similar project. It does not include news coverage or visitor use.”

The document, however, does not even attempt to define journalism, as it never defines what it means by “news coverage”. It does say that while news coverage wouldn’t need a permit, it:

“is subject to time, place, and manner restriction, if warranted, to maintain order and ensure the safety of the public and the media, and protect natural and cultural resources.”

So what are the circumstances under which the department or parks might deny permits to film and photograph? The language is characteristically vague. Commercial filming may be denied if :

(1) There is the likelihood that resource damage would occur that cannot be mitigated or restored under the terms and conditions of a permit; or

(2) There is the likelihood of unreasonable disruption of or conflict with the public’s use and enjoyment of the site; or

(3) There is the likelihood that the activity poses health or safety risks to the public; or

(4) There is the likelihood that the activity would result in the impairment of park resources or values;

(5) The activity is inappropriate or incompatible with the purpose of the refuge; or

(6) The requested activity will violate any other applicable Federal, State, or local law or regulation.

We should all be wary (from the print journalist to the blogger to the amateur shutterbug) when bureaucrats try to define and classify and codify speech.