It was announced late last week that media members will not be allowed to work on the floor of the Iowa Senate as they have in the past. Rather, Senate leaders have decided reporters must work from an upstairs gallery.
The Iowa Capitol Press Association is hoping the Senate reconsiders. Senate Republican spokesman Caleb Hunter said a growing number of online and non-traditional news outlets is making it more difficult to decide which reporters should get a seat in the chamber and which should be left out.
“As non-traditional media outlets proliferate, it creates an increasingly difficult scenario for the Senate, as a governmental entity, to define the criteria of a media outlet,” Hunter said. “Delegating the ability to define ‘media’ to another entity is ultimately still government action. For that reason media seating will remain in the designated areas in the galleries.”
A statement from Iowa Capitol Press Association officers, President Erin Murphy, Vice President Kathie Obradovich, and Secretary Katarina Sostaric:
Media access to the people who make laws is a critical component of representative government. Primarily for this reason, the Iowa Capitol Press Association is extremely disappointed in the Iowa Senate’s decision to move reporters out of the press workstations on the chamber floor and into the upstairs gallery.
In moving reporters off the floor, the Iowa Senate becomes one of only a handful of state legislative chambers across the country to limit access in this way, according to information from the National Conference on State Legislatures. For more than 100 years, reporters have worked from the press workstations on the chamber floors in the Iowa House and Senate to cover the Legislature and the taxpayer-financed officials who make state laws. For more than 100 years, the setup has served all parties well: the press, state lawmakers, and most importantly the public, which has benefited from the reporting that comes from that access.
Having real-time access to lawmakers allows reporters to provide important clarification, context and additional information to the public. Lawmakers who have real-time access to reporters can pass along news that might not otherwise be reported, and also hold journalists accountable for errors or unclear information in stories. Putting reporters in the upstairs galleries puts up new barriers to this process, and makes it more difficult for reporters to serve as the eyes and ears of the public. The better we can do our job, the better understanding the public will have of what their elected representatives are doing on their behalf.
We are pleased the Iowa House has pledged to maintain press work stations on the House chamber floor, and we hope the Iowa Senate reconsiders, and works with the press to return reporters to the Senate floor. In the meantime, the Iowa Capitol Press Association will continue to advocate for conditions in which press corps members can, for the benefit of the public, conduct their work safely and effectively.
Supporting the Iowa Capitol Press Association on this issue are the Iowa Broadcast News Association and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.
A statement from Dar Danielson, executive director, and Zarren Egesdal, board president of the Iowa Broadcast News Association:
“The Iowa Broadcast News Association fully supports the statement of the ICPA and asks the Senate leadership to reconsider this change.”
A statement from Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council (please also see the attached full FOIC press release):
“All Iowans should be troubled, as we are, by the decision of Iowa Senate leaders to move Statehouse journalists from the ‘press bench’ at the front of the Senate chamber to the public gallery upstairs.
For decades, journalists have had access to the floor of the Senate chamber. This close proximity to senators and their leaders is the customary practice in virtually every other state legislature.
This access is a recognition of the important role journalists have played throughout our state’s history. They have served as the eyes and ears of citizens across Iowa who cannot be in Des Moines when the Legislature is meeting.
These reporters, photographers and videographers have informed the people of Iowa about the debates and votes. They have been able to quickly interview individual senators and flesh out their views and votes. And the workspace on the ‘press bench’ has enabled journalists to send their reports back to their newspapers, their stations and their websites.
Barring journalists from access to the floor of the Senate chamber does not continue Iowa’s long and proud tradition of transparency that is a foundation of our democracy.
The Iowa Freedom of Information Council encourages Iowa Senate leaders to reconsider their hasty decision and once again provide Statehouse reporters with space on the ‘press bench.’
The Council is a 45-year-old nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. We advocate on behalf of improved access to our state and local governments and better accountability of our governments to the people of Iowa.”