Hoping to avoid a repeat of media images of an October "protest" on Temple Square, the LDS Church on Friday reaffirmed its plan to ban news cameras from those sacred grounds during the faith’s upcoming General Conference.
In a March 20 letter, Utah journalists had asked the church to reverse its decision forbidding news cameras from the iconic square in downtown Salt Lake City during the two-day gathering on April 5 and 6. That prohibition was spelled out in a letter to Ordain Women, a group pushing for tickets to the all-male priesthood session.
The church had declined that ticket request — as it did for the same meeting last fall. At that time, the women trooped en masse to the historic Tabernacle, where standby passes for men were distributed, and asked one by one for tickets to the Conference Center session. A male usher rebuffed every request, but photos were carried widely in the media.
This time around, LDS officials asked Ordain Women to avoid Temple Square and suggested that the group instead gather in nearby so-called "free-speech zones," typically populated by anti-Mormon demonstrators.
They also said news cameras would not be allowed on the square, adding that the ban was "consistent with long-standing policy."
The letter from the Utah Headliners chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, signed by the organization’s vice president, Salt Lake Tribune Managing Editor Lisa Carricaburu, asked the church to reconsider that stance.
"General Conference is an important event in Utah, and for Mormons throughout the world," SPJ’s letter stated. "The journalists of this state want to tell the many stories arising from General Conference and to do so accurately, with balance and in the other best practices of journalism. Video and still photography are vital tools to accomplish those goals."
The journalists said they wanted "only what the church has routinely allowed in the past: cameras free to enter Temple Square and tell the story of General Conference."
The letter was addressed to Michael R. Otterson, managing director of public affairs for the church, who responded Friday by reiterating the ban on cameras.
"Avoiding distraction from a sacred church gathering is also the operating principle in relation to Temple Square," Otterson wrote. "Last year, the staged protest was extremely disruptive to that atmosphere. While we made an exception to policy and accommodated media cameras last October, protesters exploited that decision to hold a media event."
Further, Otterson wrote, "posturing for news cameras in the shadow of the Salt Lake Temple is not what General Conference is about, and leaders and members were rightly offended by it."
Carricaburu said Friday that journalists "appreciate the church’s willingness to consider our request but are disappointed cameras will not be allowed on Temple Square during General Conference."
"We hope to continue to work with church officials," she added in a statement, "for less-restrictive access for journalists that will enable us to tell accurately and fairly the many stories arising from this semiannual meeting of interest to many Utahns."
For its part, Ordain Women, which is seeking female ordination to the all-male LDS priesthood, does not see its ticket request as a protest.
Even so, Otterson said LDS public affairs officials "have politely and respectfully" asked the group and its allies to reconsider their plans.
"We hope they do so," he wrote.
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