House Votes to Sanction Live Streaming From Floor

The House voted Tuesday along almost pure party lines (234 to 193) to specifically sanction unauthorized video streaming from the House floor.

That came after heated debate on that sanction, part of the larger rules package that was approved, which stemmed from the Democratic sit-in in the last Congress, during which Democratic legislators live-streamed the protest -- and C-SPAN carried that stream -- after House cameras were turned off, per the rules when the the House is not in session.

The rules package led off with this additional graph under the "decorum" heading: "The Sergeant-at-Arms is authorized and directed to impose a fine against a Member, Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner for the use of an electronic device  for still photography or for audio or visual recording or broadcasting in contravention of clause of rule XVII and any applicable Speaker’s announced policy on electronic devices."

The fine for a first offense would be $500, with $2,500 for subsequent violations. 

Democrats say that is a new sanction that violates the Constitution. Republicans suggested the rule does not silence protest, but clarifies sanctions already in place for violating the rules of decorum, a decorum which is essentially to reasoned legislating.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a leader of the sit-in, took to the floor during the debate to say the new rules may violate the First Amendment, and in any event would not prevent him or his colleagues from speaking out against injustice. We have the right to protest and we will not be silenced, "rules or no rules," Lewis told his Republican colleagues.

Lewis tried to strike the provision, but that was voted down.

Rep. Steve Cohen D-Tenn.) complained that the new rule says anyone even taking a photo could have their pay docked by the Sergeant-at-Arms without a hearing. 

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the newly re-elected minority leader, called it a violation of free speech and an insult to the public. She said there would be a "big fight" if the rules packaged were adopted.

Back in June, House Democrats staged the sit-in to try to force a vote on gun legislation.

In response to that action, Republicans in control of the House recessed, which pulled the plug on the House-controlled cameras used by C-SPAN to provide its public service coverage of deliberations there.

Some Democratic legislators then used Periscope and Facebook feeds to stream the protest, which were picked up by C-SPAN.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) says the rule would not prevent his colleagues from speaking or being heard but would prohibit the use of personal electronic footage for political or personal gain, while still allowing it for news and public affairs.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.