Metro Council approves $30,000 settlement with journalist Kiran Chawla

    Journalist Kiran Chawla and her attorney, Jill Craft, agreed to reduce legal expenses by half to reach a $30,000 lawsuit settlement with the city-parish on Wednesday. The settlement was approved by the Baton Rouge Metro Council.

    Chawla, the founder of digital media news outlet Unfiltered with Kiran (UWK), sued the city-parish in 2022 on claims her First Amendment rights were violated when she and other Unfiltered with Kiran journalists were denied access to public records, attendance at news conferences and news releases sent by Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and the Baton Rouge Police Department.

    “This never was a financial lawsuit,” Chawla says. “This was a lawsuit for our First Amendment rights, the rights of any journalist, and hopefully to prevent anyone else from being escorted out of a press conference again when everyone else was allowed to stay, all because the police chief and mayor simply could not stand our reporting. This settlement proves this country has laws and amendments that triumph political power. I look forward to working with the mayor and police department moving forward.”

    The city-parish cited an “unwritten policy” requiring Chawla to obtain credentials from the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters to access news conferences and be added to the city-parish media email list. Chawla and her team members were still denied access after she obtained the credentials.

    “It’s finally done after nearly two years,” Chawla says. “I feel it was a waste of tax dollars because we didn’t have to get to this point when all I was asking for was the rights every other journalist has.”

    Chawla says Broome’s office and the police department allowed UWK access to news releases and press conferences before Wednesday’s settlement.

    Chawla and UWK have been recognized with Emmy awards and three national Edward R. Murrow awards for their reporting and investigations. Chawla launched the company solo in 2020 after leaving WAFB, and the organization has grown to several employees. The news outlet has grown to over 1 million monthly page views and has a following across south Louisiana.

    “I chose to do old school journalism in the new digital age, so we bring the BR area news via our website, an app, social media platforms like Facebook, Insta and TikTok and through a podcast,” Chawla says. “We’ve created all that in just under three years.”