It’s a new era for media, as a Feb. 9 White House press conference underscored: President Barack Obama called on reporter Sam Stein, from the online-only Huffington Post, a historic first. But the news appears to be a bit slow getting to Minnesota. Rules governing the state House of Representatives still exclude online media outlets from getting access to the House floor.
But at noon today, that policy was scheduled to get a hearing, as online journalists will testify before the Minnesota House rules committee to lobby for a change of policy.
When this topic last came up in the House on Feb. 12, Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, expressed his misgivings about amending House rules to grant such access.
“We don’t have a fully defined policy of what online media is,” said the House majority leader. “If it’s somebody who designs their own Web site and comes down to the Capitol, … we could be deluged with www.anybody.com walking through the door saying, ‘I’m the online media, let me have floor access.’ You think the House chamber is a ruckus … now, wait till all the bloggers get here and show up en masse.”
But one such “blogger” — who prefers to refer to his site Checks & Balances as an “e-zine” — thinks Sertich is missing the point.
“He’s got a fundamental flaw in his understanding of the Bill of Rights,” said Shawn Towle. “It’s not for government to decide what is media … [or] to in any way, shape or form try to limit, box in or impede anybody that wants to have the right to scrutinize, analyze and comment upon the activities of elected officials. They do have the ability to limit who has access to the floor of their body, … but they should have a universal rule about the treatment of all press, whether it’s print, broadcast or online. I’m fighting for equal treatment.”
Towle was to testify at today’s hearing, and today he filed with the sergeant-at-arms office to receive House press credentials, as did the Minnesota Independent’s Paul Demko and Andy Driscoll of KFAI’s “Truth to Tell.”
In an e-mail Monday night, Driscoll said that TruthToTell correspondent Marty Owings, an online radio host and blogger, was “yanked out of a public committee hearing today as he tried to monitor and record the public proceedings therein.”
The notion that the media platform should determine who gets to be on the House floor is riddled with problems. For example, will access change for Mary Lahammer when her intent is to blog for Twin Cities Public Television instead of report broadcast news? How about when Pioneer Press reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger covers the Statehouse for a Political Animal blog post instead of the print paper? And is it “radio” when MPR streams news online instead of over the airwaves?
And, as Towle asked, “If the Strib or PiPress moves to a strict online application, are you going to reject their press credentials?”
“I make my profession over analyzing, commenting on and reporting on political events in the state of Minnesota and have done so for 14 years,” said Towle, who’s e-zine is likely the first of its kind in Minnesota.
“What is it that people are intent to hide? If they haven’t figured out that they’re under close scrutiny – microscopic scrutiny – ever since they were elected, they’re a little naïve.”