Satellite Beach officials may decline interview request under proposed city policy

City could 'decline interviews with aggressive media'

By James Sparvero - Reporter

SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. - Satellite Beach City Council members plan to address an ordinance that would change the way city officials respond to news media requests, and First Amendment rights groups say this may lead to officials choosing which questions they answer.

"The media can expect a response the same day, if possible, or within a reasonable amount of time," according to the ordinance to be discussed at Wednesday's city council meeting. However, "the city reserves the right to decline interviews with aggressive media." 

The meeting agenda defines "aggressive media" as "forceful action or procedure," "making attacks or encroachments especially unprovoked" and "hostile, injurious or destructive behavior or outlook especially when caused by frustration."

News 6 asked City Manager Courtney Barker why the city needs such a policy and she pointed to an incident with a local reporter.

Barker said last year a reporter, who is not affiliated with WKMG, called the Satellite Beach mayor and abruptly hung up on him.

"There was an issue of not getting the answer he wanted, maybe, I don't know," Barker said. "But, it was a rude conversation. We want to make sure that when we interact with the media we make them understand that we expect professionalism."

The proposed change also addresses how the city will handle public records requests, which are protected under Florida's public records laws.

If the policy goes into effect, the city manager will be notified of all media public requests. The city manager will then send the request to the city clerk. The city clerk will then determine if that request is within Florida's public records laws and complete the request.

While representatives with the Florida First Amendment Foundation described the "aggressive media" policy as "ridiculous," they said public records laws do not require elected officials to speak with reporters or members of the media.

Where the problem lies, according the Florida First Amendment Foundation, is if the policy discriminates against the media by giving the city power to decide which reporters they speak with.

"It discriminates between media and allows (presumably) a commissioner to decide which reporters are aggressive and those who are not," Peterson said, adding "There's definitely a difference between asking hard questions and being rude about it. There's nothing gained by hanging up on the mayor."

The new policy is on the agenda for Wednesday's 7 p.m. meeting.

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