April 12th, 2009
VA official confiscates reporter’s radio interview
By David Cuillier
This Veterans Affairs official went WAY too far. David Schultz, a reporter for WAMU 88.5, an NPR station, told the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that he was covering a public forum on Tuesday and interviewed a medical center patient when officials came up to him and demanded his equipment because he had not had the patient sign a consent form. Katie Roberts, a VA spokeswoman, said a consent form is required for any journalist to talk to a patient. Schultz said the event was public, that he identified himself, and that the patient agreed to be interviewed. Despite that, officials confiscated his memory card that included the interview. The patient gave the reporter his phone number so he could complete the interview later, which he did.
This is another example of privacy gone wild. Officials seem to think that medical privacy laws require them to prevent patients the right to talk to journalists if they want. That’s not protecting privacy – that’s muzzling free speech and a person’s right to speak out to anyone they want, including journalists. Apparently the radio station is working on a letter to demand the return of the memory card, for the principle of the matter. They should demand the firing of the officials responsible as well. Federal law prohibits the government from seizing journalists’ notes and other work product materials (without a subpoena – that’s another issue).