by Max Brantley
Below are the rules and guidelines for media covering executions carried out by the Arkansas Department of Correction:
On the day of an execution, all media representatives will remain at an Arkansas State Police roadblock on Highway 388 until 3:30 p.m. Please bring both your driver’s license/state identification card AND your press ID. The public information officer will check press identification and authorize the admittance of media to the Cummins Unit. If media representatives arrive later than 4 p.m., they will be detained at the roadblock until their identification and employment are verified.
IMPORTANT: No one arriving at 6 p.m. or after will be allowed past the roadblock. NO EXCEPTIONS.
Media will be escorted to the Cummins Unit’s visitation center, which will serve as a media center. Once admitted to the visitation center, media will receive press passes, which must be worn at all times. There will be tables, telephones, chairs, restrooms and vending machines. The unit also will provide sandwiches and drinks.
Smart phones, tablets and cameras are NOT permitted inside the Unit – including the visitation center. Satellite trucks, television cameras and still photographers will be assigned to a designated area of the Cummins Unit’s parking lot.
At the media center, reporters will each receive a packet of materials containing pertinent information that is routinely provided. Two hours prior to the execution, a written list of citizen witnesses and victim witnesses will be made available.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, the public information officer will provide updates of activities related to the execution. The media may use the telephones in the lobby of the visitation center.
Per ADC policy, there are three seats designated for media who will witness an execution. One seat is for the Associated Press. The second is for print media, which includes daily and weekly newspapers or magazines. The third is for broadcast, which includes radio and television. All media witnesses must be employed by Arkansas news organizations.
Three hours before the execution, representatives of the three groups will be asked to select the three witnesses. This is a pool arrangement. That means the three witnesses will be required to return to the media center after the execution, and, at that time, share their notes and observations with their peers.
In the past, reporters have adhered to the pool tradition of allowing local media (those from – or closest to – the condemned’s county of conviction) to serve as witnesses.
If media representatives fail to reach a consensus, the public information officer will make the selection. Traditionally, this has been done by lottery.
Reporters are not allowed to photograph or record executions. Nor will media be permitted to interview other witnesses present in the witness area. Any interviews will take place only in the visitation center or in the designated area of the parking lot.
The execution will be carried out at 7 p.m.
Following the execution, the ADC director will, by telephone from the execution chamber, notify the public information officer that the execution has been carried out. The public information officer will then make a brief announcement to the media. At this time, the three media witnesses will return to the center to share their observations and answer any questions from the other reporters.
If family members or attorneys wish to address the media after the execution, they will be escorted to where the satellite trucks and cameras are set up in the parking lot.
(Media Coverage by Air: Federal Air Regulation 135.203 forbids the operation of a helicopter at an altitude of less than 300 feet over an area populated as a prison facility. Adherence to this regulation is required. Federal Air Regulation 91.9 prohibits operation in a careless and reckless manner endangering persons or property.)
Media will be required to observe all barricades and restricted areas. Media representatives who do not cooperate with the Department of Correction on the day of an execution will be promptly removed from the grounds and not allowed to return.
Lastly, the dress code:
If you are a woman, do NOT wear an underwire bra. You will NOT make it through security.
No sleeveless or low-cut shirts.
No shorts or baggy pants.
Leave your wallets and purses in the trunk of your vehicles. If you wish to bring money inside for the vending machines, please put it in a baggie.
Also, the less jewelry you wear, the faster you’ll get through security.
In short, please dress conservatively.
If you know in advance who will be representing your news organization, please notify me and I will add their names to my list. This will help expedite the check-in process at the roadblock.