Bill would grant reporters more access to wildfire zones in Oregon
Oregon journalists would have more freedom to enter active wildfire zones under a bill discussed Thursday in the House Rules Committee.
As wildfires spread, news outlets in Oregon usually have to rely on photos and descriptions from government agencies. Media advocacy groups have lobbied for greater access to natural disasters so journalists can more accurately and efficiently document a breaking news story.
House Bill 4087 would allow reporters past checkpoints if they have proper safety gear.
Tom Holt, a lobbyist for the Oregon Society of Professional Journalists, said during testimony Thursday that first responders would still have the last word on whether to let someone in.
“The on-scene commander or their designee is in charge," he said. "If they say ‘No, I don’t want you to go in,’ their word is final and binding, period.”
Reporters would also be encouraged to take a safety training course developed in conjunction with emergency managers.
The bill has bipartisan sponsorship. A similar version failed to pass out of committee in the 2021 session.
Supporters said it would enable reporters to disseminate potentially life-saving information in a hurry.
"Journalists have been able to provide timely, on the ground information via social media platforms both during and after the events that can help residents leave when necessary," said Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie.