At the state Capitol Monday, the revolution arrived earlier than expected. It wasn’t rioting over the economy but some very civil unrest by members of the mainstream media, upset over proposed restrictions at the Minnesota House of Representatives that would affect not only new media but all media.
The draft rules surfaced Friday to outrage among a local media that didn’t like to be told what and when they could videotape at House committee meetings. By Monday afternoon there was enough outrage for a meeting of a couple dozen media people led by the House DFL Caucus’ Andrew Wittenborg in a Capitol hearing room.
The proposed rules were the product of the House attorneys and leadership, the Sergeant-at-Arms office, Republicans and individual members of the media, Wittenborg said. But after hearing back from the media, the new strictures are out the window. To each item on a form video- and audio-tapers were to sign to get access to ply their trade in House committee hearings, Wittenborg repeated again and again: “I don’t see that as a restriction that will go forward.”
That was good news to the assembled news-gatherers, but many remained aghast.
“If a lawyer actually looked at this [he or she] should be disbarred” in view of First Amendment violations, said TPT’s Mary Lahammer, later adding that she found legal approval of the document “shocking.”
“I’m amazed we even got to the point where we’re discussing it publicly,” said KSTP-TV’s Tom Hauser.
Wittenborg was asked to explain the fear behind the House’s trepidation. “It runs the gamut: space concerns, security concerns.” Of the latter, he said, “We’re not talking about trackers,” adding that videotaping “has weirded people out.” Then, turning to KFAI-FM’s Marty Owings: “I think you weirded people out.” (Owings has probably had the most run-ins with the House Sergeant-at-Arms in his attempts to videotape during House committee hearings.)
That explanation didn’t sit right with Jason Barnett of The UpTake, who argued for broad rights for all citizens to shoot video at the Capitol and House committee hearings. The first thing you hear on a tour of the Capitol is “This is your building,’” he said. “If you’re not allowed to record in it, it’s not your building.”
Wittenborg said he’d bring the reporters’ concerns back to House leadership. Exactly what the next step will be is unclear.
Troopers sicced on reporter for taking photos at House committee
by Chris Steller, Minnesota Independent
Within hours of a Monday meeting at the state Capitol at which reporters heard that proposed restrictions on media wouldn’t go into force, state troopers descended on a reporter for taking a photo of a legislator who was offering a bill to a state House of Representatives committee.
Among other issues voiced at the meeting, reporters objected to a new requirement that media carry credentials for covering House committee hearings. (”What the hell are ‘committee credentials’?” DFL Caucus communications chief Andrew Wittenborg was asked.) That was apparently the problem at a committee meeting Monday evening.
Don Davis, Capitol bureau chief for Forum Communications, tells his story at the Capitol Chatter blog:
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.
Davis’ account recalls an incident last week, when a House page admonished The UpTake’s Tom Elko for using a video camera in a House subcommittee meeting. Elko, who carried state Senate but not House credentials, told the Minnesota Independent he went willingly with the page to the Sergeant-at-Arms’ office to discuss the matter.
Bigger media weighs in on access issues at the Minnesota House
By Paul Schmelzer, Minnesota Independent
A group of online media outlets — including Checks & Balances, Radio Free Nation, the Minnesota Independent, The UpTake, Twin Cities Daily Planet and others — have been pressing the Minnesota House of Representatives to change rules that limit who gets to cover their proceedings. Now that the Sergeant-at-Arms proposed (now-ditched) restrictions on all media hoping to video- or audio-tape committee hearings, bigger media outlets are spreading the message:
• WCCO’s Pat Kessler raised the “who’s a journalist question” Monday night, noting that the access battle is a bipartisan issue. He interviews The UpTake’s Jason Barnett and Minnesota Democrats Exposed’s Michael Brodkorb about their disappointment that the DFL majority seems opposed to “more transparency, more bloggers in, more access to the process,” as Brodkorb put it.
• WCCO’s Esme Murphy strikes the same chord, then posts the Society of Professional Journalists’ statement on yesterday’s proceedings:
“It’s our understanding the first three of the proposed rules are already tossed out, which is a good thing since they triggered the strongest response. However, SPJ is concerned about the rules that continue to try to narrow the definition of what a journalist is and who should be allowed to document the workings of state government.
The Minnesota Legislature does the people’s work during committee meetings and formal House and Senate floor sessions. Minnesota SPJ understands the difficulty in maintaining decorum and a productive environment in such open, public forums. However, this is precisely the job legislators were elected to do. Public scrutiny comes with the office. SPJ takes the position that transparency is the only way elected representatives can maintain credibility with their constituents. As such, the best approach is one that adheres to the most noble aspects of the First Amendment that recognizes the need for openness and accountability from government.
It’s difficult to understand why the proposed rules place conditions on what should be a simple process of access. SPJ prefers to define ‘journalist’ in the broadest of terms and we believe it’s time for the legislature to do the same. The public loses whenever elected officials choose to exclude people who wish to document what happens in a public meeting, working on public policy in a public space. 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.”
• TPT’s Mary Lahammer expresssed “great outrage” over the House rules that limit “where, when and what [the media] could record in a public building involving publically elected people.” She writes, “True the media landscape is changing and that makes a lot of us fearful too, but fear never leads to good decision making.”
• MPR’s Bob Collins writes of the “big chill at the Capitol,” noting that 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.”