Reporter, public removed from Illinois city council meeting

September 13, 2021

Erica Chiang, editor-in-chief for The Southland Journal, was told to stop filming and ordered to leave a city council meeting in Country Club Hills, Illinois, on Sept. 13, 2021.

Chiang told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she covered the city council meeting without incident until the public comments portion of the meeting. In an account for the Journal, Chiang wrote that when an alderman attempted to respond to an attendee’s comment, Mayor James Ford interrupted.

“That caused the crowd to get a little upset, and maybe two or three people were like, ‘Let him speak, let him speak,’” Chiang said. “So that prompted the mayor to try to shut down the meeting to the public.”

Ford ordered the room to be emptied, but Chiang said she remained seated and continued filming; when the mayor noticed her, he said she needed his permission to record and ordered that she be removed as well.

“I’m a member of the press,” Chiang can be heard saying in her recording of the incident. “This is a public meeting, I have every right to record a public meeting. I don’t need permission; it is a public meeting.”

According to the Illinois Open Meetings Act, “Any person may record the proceedings at meetings required to be open by this Act by tape, film or other means. The authority holding the meeting shall prescribe reasonable rules to govern the right to make such recordings.”

“It was a surprise that he would say I couldn’t record without his permission, considering the Open Meetings Act clearly spells out what I can and cannot do,” Chiang told the Tracker. “I was not obstructing, I was seated and I was just recording with my phone out as I had been.”

Chiang said she has been in contact with an attorney about the incident and is considering next steps.

Ford did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]