An Ohio state senator wants to ban broadcasting the tapes of 911 calls on TV, radio, and the internet. He argues that some people may be reluctant to call 911 to report crimes for fear that the tape will be broadcast and their identity will be revealed. In some states 911 call tapes and transcripts are not public records. In such states, broadcasting the tape is not an issue because the tape is not released. The question here, however, would be whether the state can bar the broadcast of the tape after permitting its release.
I am skeptical of this legislation on both constitutional and policy grounds. It seems to me that there are many less-restrictive means of addressing the alleged problem (if it is a problem in the first place). Among other things, broadcasters could be required to use voice-distorting technology on broadcasts (or the state could use such technology before the tape is publicly released). A more focused rule, perhaps targeted to calls informing the police of violent crimes, would also be less restrictive. One of my colleagues, interviewed for this story, also points out that informants might, in some instances, also be identifiable from the transcript.
I am also skeptical that there is any real problem here to solve. Is there any evidence that people are refusing to call 911 because they are afraid the call will be aired on TV? More likely, this legislation is a response to some of the uses to which 911 calls have been put. For example, when an Ohio middle school teacher committed suicide after being accused of showing pornographic material, the 911 call he placed before killing himself was featured in several tribute (or, in some cases, "anti-tribute") videos on YouTube. Yet this sort of thing would hardly justify a ban on broadcasting a public record.