DFLers at the Capitol are tackling a major problem that’s developed during this session — too many people want to tell Minnesotans what they’re doing.
It started innocently enough. A few bloggers and online news organizations asked for the same access on the House and Senate floor as mainstream journalists.
That not only didn’t happen, but yesterday, WCCO reported that the DFL cracked down on the filming of committee hearings. According to reporter Esme Murphy, the sergeant at arms has proposed a new sweeping set of restrictions that will prevent almost any TV coverage of hearings at the Capitol that the leadership doesn’t want covered.
The apparent crackdown on coverage isn’t just limited to TV reporters.
Don Davis, the Capitol reporter for Forum Communications’ newspapers, says he was hassled while trying to cover a hearing.
Two hours after Wittenborg’s meeting, I was trying to take a photo of Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth presenting a bill to a House committee. A page approached and asked to see my credentials before she would allow me to take photos. Recalling Wittenborg’s assurances that no credentials were needed, I told her that I had just been told I did not need to present credentials (which, by the way, hung in plain sight from a lanyard around my neck) and I continued to photograph Marquart.
Soon after I returned to my seat in the back of the room, two state troopers approached me after the page had called them, apparently to kick out this photographer. Both had seen me plenty of times and knew I was legitimate, so gave me little hassle.
Not long after I returned to the office to write my story, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher called to apologize for the incident and promised it would be investigated. And Marquart called to apologize, even though he did not even know the troopers were talking to me at the time and had no knowledge of the proposed rule changes until I told him.
Earlier in the day, according to Marty Owings at the blog Radio Free Nation, reporters and bloggers gave House officials the “what for” over the issue:
Mary Lahammer of TPT’s Almanac suggested that any lawyer who proposed these rules should be “disbarred”. Tom Hauser from KSTP agreed and added that it was “absurd” that any Law Maker would even propose these rules. Jason Barnett of the Uptake.org asked what the real issue was. Mr. Whittenborg said it ran the gamut from “space concerns” to “security issues.” He said some concerns were raised about who was filming Law Makers and that some of them were “weirded out” while others welcomed the cameras.
Mr. Whittenborg pointed out that Leadership was aware that there were cameras every where now and that they were looking at these issues. Everyone in the room, including Mr. Whittenborg agreed that restricting cameras was not a solution. What about space issues? Mr. Whittenborg mentioned that this could be a concern. Noah Kunin from the UpTake.org suggested that space be allocated on a first come, first serve basis.
Minnesota’s Society of Professional Journalists isn’t happy either, according to a statement.
“If there is an issue of decorum, safety or logistical space, elected leaders have appropriate methods in place. Rather than create additional rules that imply a person’s credentials will be issued based on where a person works or how long a person will be reporting at the Capitol, SPJ would encourage legislative leaders to lessen the rules to allow more people to report in new and innovative ways to reach more of the public. The Legislature should establish equitable rules for all media, with no bias awarded anyone based on medium, method or viewpoint. If this proposal reflects the Legislature’s attempt to do that, they have missed the mark.”
The action comes at a time when legislative coverage is at an ebb. News organizations have cut reporters and time for legislative coverage, and Channel 17’s all-day live coverage of the Legislature has disappeared for many viewers in the metro area because of the switch to digital programming.
There’s virtually no reasonable case to be made that inviting a few bloggers in to inspect the workings of elected officials would cause an undue burden on the lawmakers who, for the record, asked for the job. The third month of the legislative session has started and the Legislature still hasn’t produced a major piece of legislation or even an alternative to the budget proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. And most of the critical decisions of the session will continue to be made behind solidly closed — and occasionally guarded — doors by a small handful of people.
Of all the problems currently facing the people of the state of Minnesota, being too informed about what the pols are doing at the Capitol isn’t one of them.
Update 3:28 p.m. – It’s worth reading Mary Lahammer’s blog today. It sounded like things were cordial, but tense at the House Taxes Committee hearing today.