RTDNA today condemns the recent remarks of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, in which he praised West Virginia Capitol Police for Tuesday’s arrest of a journalist who was merely attempting to do his job by asking Sec. Price questions about recently passed House legislation on health care.
According to the health news website statnews.com and other media reports, Price told reporters in Concord, N.H., Wednesday that West Virginia police should be commended for “doing what they thought was appropriate” when arresting Dan Heyman, a 30-year veteran reporter who works for the Public News Service.
Price was walking in a public hallway in the West Virginia State Capitol when Heyman repeatedly asked him whether domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under the House health care overhaul bill. Price refused to answer Heyman’s questions.
“That gentleman was not in a press conference,” Price said Wednesday.
Heyman was charged with “willful disruption of government processes,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. He is now free on $5,000 bail. The criminal complaint alleges “the defendant was causing a disturbance by yelling questions.”
“That a reporter in the United States can be arrested merely for asking questions of a public official about public policy in a public place is unconscionable,” said Dan Shelley, incoming Executive Director of RTDNA, who spearheads the association’s Voice of the First Amendment Task Force.
“This is one of the latest in a growing number of incidents across the country that show a pattern of systematic efforts to restrict press freedoms in the nation’s current political and ideological environment,” Shelley said. “RTDNA is committed to defending the First Amendment and journalists’ constitutional right to fulfill their responsibility to inform the public.”
RTDNA, which immediately on Tuesday reached out to the Public News Service to offer Heyman legal and other assistance, also today calls on West Virginia prosecutors to dismiss the charges against Heyman.