Late last week prominent liberal reporter, Laura Belin, who publishes the well-read progressive website Bleeding Heartland was denied press credentials by Carmine Boal, the Chief Clerk of the Iowa House of Representatives.
This is a mistake.
Belin, I was told was not denied credentials due to her liberal point of view, but because she is not considered press by the Iowa House Republicans who hold the majority.
“The House Rules limit access to the floor of the House to ‘representatives of the press, radio, and television.’ Those that meet those requirements have received credentials. Those that do not have been denied. House Rules have been applied uniformly and consistently without consideration of content,” Colin Tadlock, spokesperson for the Iowa House Republicans, told Caffeinated Thoughts.
Apparently, “press” is defined by the Iowa House Republicans as reporters who work for organizations that print newspapers. If your outlet is solely online, then you can’t be credentialed. House R 4 and 20 tell reporters what they can do, but the House rules do not provide a definition of who is press and who is not.
This means I wouldn’t be credentialed either even though I have been reporting on the Iowa House and Senate since 2006.
I should note that I have never sought press credentials for the Iowa House or Iowa Senate primarily because I don’t have much time to go to the statehouse. I’ve also been a registered lobbyist in the past on education bills. I could not be credentialed press and a registered lobbyist at the same time since lobbyists can’t go onto the House floor.
I’ve never felt impeded covering the state house without credentials. I receive press releases from the Iowa House and Iowa Senate. The communications directors respond to my questions. I’ve never needed credentials to cover committee meetings or watch debates (whether in person or online). Also, individual legislators have been pretty good about responding to inquiries about bills, etc.
Press credentials are generally only needed to access the press box on the floor of the Iowa House or Senate.
There are three primary problems with the way the Iowa House Republicans have applied this definition.
First, it’s archaic. I mean, how 20th century! Newspapers are dying because more and more people are getting their news online. I would suspect that both Laura and I, as well as, The Iowa Standard and Iowa Starting Line provide more political coverage than your average small town newspaper – especially if it’s a weekly only paper.
Second, it’s unconstitutional. Article 1, Section 7 of Iowa Constitution states, “No law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech, or of the press.”
An application of Iowa House Rules defining who is press and who isn’t based on the outlet restrains and abridges a reporter’s liberty of the press (including those of us who are not paid).
Whether or not a news organization is online only and whether or not someone is paid should not matter. I’ve never had problems attending any open press event or press conference by the Governor. Also, Iowa’s Judicial Branch has defined “news media” as “any person who regularly gathers, prepares, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information about matters of public interest in any medium.”
Third, there is the question of whether or not there has been consistently application of the “rules.” The current list is primarily traditional media outlets, but one organization, the Iowa Legislative News Service, is possibly an e-mail based outlet.
Belin noted that a reporter from Iowa Watchdog (now just wrapped up into Watchdog.org), a website run by the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, had a credentialed reporter in the past.
(Update: Belin reminded me that Craig Robinson with The Iowa Republican, Megan Malloy with The Iowa Independent, now defunct, and Lynn Campbell for IowaPolitics.com, also defunct, have received press credentials in the past from the Iowa House.)
Look, I understand that not everybody with a blog can or should be issued press credentials (though I doubt they’re inundated with requests from bloggers). There is something to be said about people who have built a platform and publish consistently. The Iowa Judicial Branch has a fair and updated definition that the Iowa House Republicans should consider.
Also, one’s political perspective should not matter. Yes, Belin is liberal. I’m conservative. We both write opinion pieces and news pieces. Neither of us, because we are, for the most part, a one-person operation, can split that out. If Belin’s political ideology prevents her from receiving press credentials then Iowa House Democrats can do the same thing to me if/when they are in the majority. It’s wrong in both cases.
Political campaigns and state parties can discriminate that way for political events. State government can not.