Federal Eye: VA, Radio Station Clash Over Interview

Executives and lawyers for WAMU radio are demanding an apology from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the immediate return of a reporter’s recording equipment following an incident during a public forum earlier this week at the VA Hospital in Washington.

The station contends the action was a violation of the reporter’s first amendment right to gather news. The department claims the reporter did not properly identify himself nor followed necessary procedures for interviewing VA patients while at the event.

Reporter David Schultz attended the meeting Tuesday night in the hospital’s auditorium after learning about it from a VA press release. Members of the VA’s Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans organized the event to meet with concerned veterans and hear comments about care and treatment for minorities.

Army veteran Tommie Canady told the committee he had received poor treatment from the Washington hospital, according to Schultz. Intrigued by his comments, Schultz invited the veteran out into the hallway for a recorded interview.

Moments later, hospital public affairs officer Gloria Hairston approached the pair, telling Schultz he could not conduct an interview with Canady until they both signed consent forms. She summoned hospital security guards and demanded that Schultz hand over all of his equipment. After a conversation, Schultz eventually gave Hairston the flash card of his digital recorder after calling and consulting with WAMU news director Jim Asendio. He left the hospital moments later.

Schultz never properly identified himself nor obtained the consent forms necessary before speaking with Canady, according to VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts.

“We have procedures and policies in place, so that our patients can make informed decisions about what information they feel comfortable releasing or discussing with the public. That is why before we permit one-on-one interviews to be filmed or videotaped on our premises we request written consent.” A reporter with American Urban Radio and a photographer with Vaughn Enterprises also attended the town hall meeting, signed consent forms and were able to interview patients, Robert said.

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