A licensed private filming company in Palau, Lightening Strikes Production’s owner Richard Brooks, was booted out of the public hearing on Comprehensive Tax Reform for Koror residents and business owners on Wednesday, June 2nd, at the Palau Community College. He was told to leave by Senator Jonathan Isechal for not obtaining approval from either the Senate Committee, PCC President or Koror State Governor to film the event according to Senator Jonathan Isechal.
Senator Isechal said he saw Mr. Richard Brooks setting up his equipment and sent Senate staff to ask him what he was doing. He said he recognized him and he was wearing his company shirt. When Isechal asked him if he had ask permission to film, he said no and so he told him to leave.
“My issue is, he did not tell us who he is, tell us for what purpose was filming, was it personal or for public use…for what. Just have some respect, we are not a banana republic,” expressed Senator Isechal.
Mr. Richard Brooks said he was shocked because he did not expect such explosive response. He said he heard the announcement of the public hearing and went to film it. “I thought it was a public hearing and open to public. Some people were sitting recording with their phones. Also, I am a business owner and resident here. I thought this was for us to attend.”
Mr. Brooks said he was looking to set up his tripod when he was approached by someone asking him what he was doing. “I told him I was setting up to film and he spoke across the room to the table where the Senators were and Senator Isechal was responding loudly back. I didn’t want to yell across the room so I left my stuff and walked up to the table to answer. He asked what I was doing and I told him I was going to film and he was asking if I had obtained Koror State or PCC or Senate’s permission and I said no. I said I thought this was a public hearing. He started yelling at me telling me to get out and that I was disrespecting Palau and Palauans. I was just in shock and I was being humiliated as he continued to berate me in front of the crowd.”
In a phone interview with Senator Isechal, he said that like Senate Chamber, its open to everybody but he at least should “have the courtesy to ask”.
Senator Rukebai Inabo, Chairwoman of Ways & Means & Financial Matters Committee conducting the Comprehensive Tax Reform public hearings, said the events are being filmed by Senate staff and aired for public and copies of the films could be made available to upon request. She added that media has never asked to film any public hearings before and “maybe requests should have been received before the scheduled public hearing.”
The public announcements that were announced on the air and on social media did not say that the events were not to be filmed or recorded. Private media was not aware that the public hearings were not to be recorded.
Open Government Act enables any member of the public to attend any public meeting and for any public entity to provide requested information to any member of the public but it does not clearly address the recording of public meetings by private citizens.