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I have had a lot of people reach out this week asking what I think of the Iowa Senate’s decision to not seat members of the media along press row in their chamber. I will not pretend to be privy the logic behind the decision. But I think I understand it.

I am not aware of how many reporters requested workspace in the Iowa Senate along press row, but based on the Senate’s decision, it is likely there were not as many spaces available as there were requests.

If that is the case, I am not sure what the Senate is supposed to do. If they receive more requests than spaces available, then they are having to pick and choose who gets to be there. And that opens the Senate up to being accused of discriminatory behavior based on viewpoint.

Because the Senate’s policy treats ALL media the same, I support the decision. The media is more than capable of covering the Senate from the gallery — I’ve been doing it for three years. Now, if there are any impromptu press gaggles, I’m not sure what the plan is for that, but I trust legislative leaders to figure it out.

With modern technology and the ability for legislators to directly contact media members on cell phones or through various messaging apps, I’m not sure floor access is necessary for that purpose. Both parties know how to reach each other if needed.

Might it be more inconvenient? Yes. But again, it’s something I’ve had to do the last three years and I’ve survived it.

Will it ruin pictures and video? Well, the angles aren’t going to be as good. And that sucks, but again, the Senate is treating all media the same.

I am not sure how we can really complain. Now, I understand media that has traditionally been allowed a seat along press row would be upset, but I wonder how any of those members would feel if everyone except them was allowed a seat there. Wouldn’t they cry out loud over that policy too?

And the reality is, media like The Iowa Standard and Bleeding Heartland have been denied space by the Iowa House for a couple of years. The House is essentially picking and choosing who gets the floor and who doesn’t.

This doesn’t mean the House is not accommodating The Iowa Standard to the best of its ability. If all the spaces on press row are taken, they’re taken. Tough luck. However, it sure seems as though the House is inviting trouble for itself by picking and choosing who it seats on press row and who it doesn’t.

Again, for my purposes, sitting on press row isn’t a dire thing. It seems I can adequately do my job from the gallery — and the House has and is working with me to help make it as smooth as possible.

I’m just saying I think the Senate’s policy of not picking and choosing is a safer policy than the House’s policy. Because nobody can accuse the Senate of playing favorites.

The press is instrumental in government. It truly is the “Fourth Estate” of our government. It must be a part of the process.

I have little suggestions to make when it comes to deciding who gets what spot. But if — IF — media is allowed to sit along press row, I do think there is one valuable factor that should be taken into consideration.

I believe there should be an equal number of Democrat media members and Republican media members seated along press row. Then again, I also believe media that reports on politics should publicly declare their party affiliation so readers can take that into consideration when reading stories.

Really, if the media is all about “transparency,” shouldn’t it be transparent itself?

So, do I think the media should be allowed at press row? Yes.

But if more media want a full-time presence there than what is available? Well, no. I don’t think the Senate should be in a position to pick who gets a spot and who does not.

The Senate will offer workspace to the media elsewhere. And for now, I trust it will be appropriate.

Do I think the sky is falling and democracy is dying if the media has to witness what happens from the gallery? No.

I get both sides of the issue. But I think what the Senate has decided is a reasonable conclusion.

It may not be ideal. It may change the way things have been done for a long, long, long time. But at the end of the day, as a member of the media that has been left off press row the last three years, I actually think it is only fair.

Author: Jacob Hall

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve heard from a few folks about this myself. It’s interesting to me that it’s an issue this year but wasn’t an issue last year when no one had access to press row. The true question is whether or not this violates the First Amendment -particularly with respect to “abridging” freedom of the press. “Press row,” as it is called, is an area to the left or to the right of, and behind, the Senate President and “the well”. The new rules put the press about 10-15 feet above and maybe 3 feet behind where they were. Is that “abridging”? An argument could be made that press row itself abridges freedom of the press. Why do they have to sit there when they could have a camera an inch from my face through the entire session? Why should some members of the press have floor seats while others are in the balcony? Not only has the Senate made fair and reasonable accomodations for the press, but the entire process is live, recorded and posted on the legis.iowa.gov web site. Every committee meeting is accessible via Zoom live and citizens can participate from the comfort of their home or office instead of driving to Des Moines. Citizens have more access to the Senate and the Senate is more transparent than ever before thanks to technology advancements. The idea that the Senate is violating freedom of the press or is somehow not transparent is absurd.

  2. Senator Craig Williams, if the idea that the Senate is violating freedom of the press or is somehow not transparent is absurd and space is no longer a limiting factor, why are all new applications for press credentials be denied this year? How could refusing press credentials to ALL NEW Journalist not be considered violating freedom of the press? I don’t understand…

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