Freedom of Press and Information Act? Tennessee Senate Votes to Prevent Broadcast of 911 Calls
The Tennessee Senate has passed a Bill to block public rebroadcasting of 911 emergency calls without the written consent of the person whose voice is recorded. According to Newschannel 9 the 23 to 8 vote bans media broadcasts of 911 tapes. That includes all recordings, including that final radio call for Sergeant Tim Chapin, which was played 2 weeks ago. The Senate’s amended version does not include banning written records of those calls. Meanwhile, the House is aiming to ban the text, and that’s where the bill is headed next according to Newschannel 9.
Are 911 Records Public Records?
Is this information public record? The amended version of the Bill declares that such calls are public record , but does a limitation on rebroadcasting or publication of the transcript actually impede public access? Should the government be concerned about privacy rights of people who call 911 and protecting the dispatchers and police (who work for the public) from having their official radio conversations broadcast? The Freedom of Information Act requires the release of any information related to any government agency or public agency, including emails sent and received by government employees and agents. There are notable exceptions such as matters relating to national security, or information which is Germain to an ongoing investigation. Obviously the public should not expect the police to release key information which would jeopardize a criminal investigation or release the names of certain witnesses and place them in danger, etc. But 911 tapes and radio calls do not typically involve any of these issues
The bill does not seek to prevent subpoena or other court ordered release of these calls to a criminal defendant in court. It appears that the amended Bill only seeks to limit the media’s ability to rebroadcast the calls or republish transcripts.