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Arresting the truth: House Republicans prevent ‘Gaslands’ director from filming Congressional hearing on fracking

House Republicans directed Capitol police to remove Academy Award winning director Josh Fox from a hearing on fracking today. He was arrested and released after the hearing. 

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Huffington Post writes that the first reports from the scene indicated that an ABC reporter was also prevented from filming, though ABC later denied having sent a cameraperson. 

…the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee[] can be heard at the end of the clip asking Republican Chairman Andy Harris (R-Md.) to halt the arrest and permit Fox to film the public hearing. Harris denies Miller's request as Fox is escorted out of the hearing in handcuffs.

Fox had applied to get official credentials for his visit but was denied them. He showed up to film anyway, as some members of Congress point out is common practice among reporters at such hearings. The credentials process is meant to ensure that there is enough space at packed hearings, but today's was nearly empty. HuffPost reports outrage among members of Congress about the hostile attack on press freedom.

"I was chair of the Subcommittee for four years, and we frequently had people show up the day of a hearing to film," Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) told HuffPost. "We asked for their name, but they were told if they would not disrupt the hearing, they were free to record. A couple of times staff said, 'You're getting in the way, don't stand there,' but other than that, I do not ever recall anything like this. We certainly never turned anyone away for not providing 24 hours' notice."

"It's an outrageous violation of the First Amendment," Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) told HuffPost. "Here we've got an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, and it's an important subject and the subject that he did his prior film on for HBO. And they put him in handcuffs and hauled him out of there. This is stunning." 
"I found it ironic that there was not a flood of cameras there," noted Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.). "There was the one camera and then before that, the ABC camera … if you have a camera there to bring the issue home to the public, that's a good thing."
Fracking is considered an enormous growth industry, but Fox's film "Gaslands" and others point out that the process of natural gas extraction undeniably has enormously destructive side-effects, including the poisoning of public drinking water. Fox was filming today for a follow-up film on the gas fracking industry. 
 
As ACLU Washington legal director Art Spitzer said, the incident smells like political interference with speech. He told HuffPo:
 
 [E]xcluding a journalist because he doesn't share the political views of the committee chair is outrageous. The Supreme Court has explained many times that censorship based on viewpoint is the clearest kind of First Amendment violation, and that seems to be what happened here.
 
Josh Fox spoke to Amy Goodman's DemocracyNow! about his arrest. Watch.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.