The following letter was sent to fire Chief Brian Cummings today on behalf of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles regarding the Los Angeles Fire Department’s policy to restrict the free flow of information:
Dear Chief Cummings:
This law office represents the Society of Professional Journalists – Greater Los Angeles Chapter (“SPJ/LA”) and the Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles (“PPAGLA”). I write on behalf of SPJ/LA and PPAGLA to express their shared concern with recent policy changes announced by the Los Angeles Fire Department (“LAFD”) that seriously threaten the newsgathering rights of journalists and photojournalists, and endanger the public’s right to know about the functioning of its government.
The LAFD’s new policy of refusing to disclose information to the media about basic response details – including times and locations of incidents and the nature of emergencies as well as the age and gender of victims – is a sharp departure from the previous practice of the LAFD. It contravenes a directive from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that the LAFD “immediately resume releasing information that provides LAFD incident specifics[.]” Letter, Hon. A. Villaraigosa to Chief Cummings, Mar. 21, 2012. The timing of the policy shift is highly suspicious in light of recent revelations about inaccuracies in the LAFD’s reported response times to emergency situations.