NEFAC, First Amendment Advocates Ask Court to Require Media Access at Boston Common Rallies

Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition today asked a federal court to reinforce the right of journalists to cover public rallies on the Boston Common. 

Boston officials in August prevented all members of the press from accessing an area of the Common where a controversial group of speakers assembled, a restriction the coalition and other organizations say is unconstitutional.

In a Nov. 16 amicus brief, NEFAC and other advocates argued that:

“This exclusion impermissibly prevented journalists from hearing what the rally participants were saying and from interviewing individuals about the reasons for their participation. . . . Assuring media access that is at least equal to that of the general public helps to ensure that members of the public who cannot attend an event in person will have an opportunity to learn about it through print and electronic media.”

The brief was submitted on behalf of NEFAC, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association and the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. It explains the press access issues involved in a federal court case brought by an individual who planned to participate in the Aug. 19 rally but claims he was prevented by police from doing so. 

In August, shortly after a deadly protest in Charlottesville, Va., more than 30,000 demonstrators assembled on the Common in response to a rally that was rumored to include white nationalist speakers. City of Boston officials imposed a barricade about 40-50 yards wide to separate the demonstrators from the Common’s Parkman Bandstand where the rally occurred. Officials also denied admission to the rally based on individual viewpoints and prevented journalists from providing essential media coverage.

With another rally planned for Nov. 18, NEFAC is asking the court to include in its ruling an order that would require Boston officials to:

• Allow close-up access by journalists to public areas where speakers assemble.
• Ensure that no member of the press is given less access than any member of the public. 

The brief filed today is the latest effort by NEFAC to prevent restrictions on journalists covering public events on the Boston Common. During the rally, the coalition co-sponsored a legal hotline for journalists covering the story. Shortly after the rally, the coalition called on city officials to change their policies and provided several recommendations for future events. Earlier this month, NEFAC worked with the ACLU to discuss these recommendations directly with city officials. In response, city attorneys said the following:

“[I]t is the City’s position that members of the media will not be restricted from entering any areas accessible to event participants. Additionally, members of the media will not be restricted on what equipment they can bring to the event. Of course[,] should public safety concerns arise, there may be restrictions put in place, but at this time there are no such restrictions anticipated.”

“A court order will make it more likely that they will keep their word and provide access,” said Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director. “Journalists have a right to cover events on the Common and to inform us all about what’s happening in our city.”

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.