Baton Rouge settles “Unfiltered with Kiran” lawsuit, allowing access to records and news conferences

BATON ROUGE — The Baton Rouge Metro Council approved a resolution Wednesday to settle a federal lawsuit filed by UWK founder Kiran Chawla.

Chawla, a nationally award-winning journalist, sued the city-parish in 2022 after her First Amendment rights were violated when she & other UWK journalists were denied access to public records, prevented from attending news conferences, and never sent news releases sent by Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and the Baton Rouge Police Department.

The proposed $30,000 settlement, which was unanimously passed by the Metro Council, comes after months of contentious legal proceedings. The settlement covers Chawla’s legal expenses, which she and her attorney Jill Craft agreed to reduce by half in order to reach an agreement. The settlement is being paid with tax payer dollars.

“This was never about the money for me,” Chawla said after the settlement was approved. “It has always been about my organization’s right to be treated equally with other media outlets in Baton Rouge. We are committed to our mission of delivering breaking news, hard-hitting investigations, and heartwarming stories that highlight the spirit of South Louisiana. We believe this agreement will finally put us on equal footing with other media, allowing us to cover Baton Rouge as thoroughly as we do every other city and parish in the area.”

The city-parish cited an unwritten policy requiring credentials from the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters to access news conferences and be added to the city-parish media email list. Despite obtaining these credentials, and offering credentials from other state and nationally accredited journalism institutions, UWK continued to be denied access.

Chawla and Craft argued that the policy mandating media credentials was unconstitutional, infringing upon her First Amendment rights. They claimed that denying her access to records and official news releases was retaliatory due to her critical reporting on the city-parish and BRPD.

“The hallmark of a true democracy is the fundamental access of freedom of the press and the public to the deliberations of their officials,” Craft said. “In this case, Kiran stood up and showed tremendous amount of courage against all odds to underscore the notion that people are entitled to all different viewpoints and any access by the media to public officials and the mayor’s office. When the press is frozen out or press is censored, we do not have a democracy. We now have or will have an autocracy. And that’s not America. Today is a great day for America.”

Chawla and UWK have been recognized with Emmy awards and three national Edward R. Murrow awards for their reporting and investigations. The organization has grown from a single, female-owned business to a bustling news organization that has over a million monthly page views and a loyal following across South Louisiana.

Download the Unfiltered with Kiran app from the Apple App Store and Google Play to stay updated on the latest news across the Capital area. 

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