November 24, 2014

Bill would restrict media access to 911 audio

Nearly two years after the murder of a UW Madison student in her off campus apartment, the case is having repercussions on who may hear 911 calls, as proposed legislation would keep 911 tapes off the air in Wisconsin. State Representative Amy Sue Vruwink (D-Miladore) drafted the bill (AB-612) in response to concerns from the families of slain UW student Brittany Zimmerman and her fiancee. “In the case of the murder of Brittaney Zimmerman, these audio tapes only served as the fuel for the sensationalistic coverage of the crime, while causing family and friends . . . to relive the crime, again and again,” Vruwink told the Assembly Personal Privacy Committee.

“The families involved do not understand why the actual tapes themselves were released. I have recieved criticism from the media for drafting this legislation, because they believe I’m advocating the restriction of information. That is not the intent.” Vruwink said her bill allows access to transcripts of 911 calls, but NOT the audio. The head of a statewide media organization said “aren’t the same,” and called the bill “ill advised.” “Efforts by reporters and editors to gain access to two 911 recordings were not driven by a desire for the sensational,” said Peter D. Fox, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. “They were motivated by a desire to get to the truth.” A judge ruled that most – but not all – of the call Jordan Gonnering made to 911 when he discovered Zimmerman’s body could be released, but audio of a call made from the slain student’s cell phone could be withheld. Fox cited that as proof that the current law works well. “Wisconsin’s balancing test is appropriate and deliberate. It works well for our state,” he said. A judge ruled that the recording from the call made by Zimmerman’s phone contains information that is significant to the search for her kille, and that releasing it could jeopardize the police investigation.

One of the family members impacted by the murder of the 21 year-old Zimmerman and the subsequent court actions also testified. “Our family and the Zimmermans, or any other family, should not be subjected the horror of April 2nd 2008 any time the TV or local newspaper comes,” said Dennis Gonnering of Marshfield, the father of Zimmerman’s fiancee, Jordan Gonnering. “Our family and the Zimmermans sat through three days of hearings in which the media was trying Jordan and Brittany’s 911 calls released to the public so they could have news to sell papers.”

AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (:65 MP3) AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (:65 MP3)