PBS shouldn’t ‘get in the way of reporters or photographers covering news,’ ombudsman says

PBS | Current

A PBS staffer was “clearly wrong” to try to stop a reporter from photographing hotel security detain a protester at PBS’ annual meeting last week, PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler writes. PBS distributes news programs, and “many people understandably view it as a news and public affairs network, and so PBS needs to continue doing that and not get in the way of reporters or photographers covering news,” he writes.

Dru Sefton, who reported on PBS’ interference for Current, tells Getler the staffer (whose identity Getler says he doesn’t know) “was frantically trying to contact Anne Bentley [PBS vice-president for communications] on her phone.” Sefton continues:

She was basically stating loudly over and over, STOP TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS. PLEASE DO NOT TAKE PHOTOS. STOP TAKING PHOTOS, things of that sort. And she was placing herself between me and the protester and security guard—I’d step to the right, she’d step in front of me. To the left, ditto. She also held up her notebook or clipboard at one point. I also couldn’t hear what the guard was saying to the protester because this staffer kept loudly telling me to stop taking pictures. I tried shooting around her but it was basically impossible.

Bentley told Poynter at the time that the incident was “extremely unfortunate” and “It is our understanding that it is being handled by the hotel in accordance with their standard policy and procedures.” Bentley told Getler, “Our procedure is for communications staff to manage interactions with reporters. One of our conference services staff had asked that Current wait until a PR staff member could arrive.”

That’s “like telling someone not to take pictures of an airplane crashing until the company PR person arrives,” Getler writes.

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