Update 1/14/2015: The Alabama Legislature “declined” to change the rules for journalists yesterday, with senators from both parties objecting & warning of possible unintended consequences. Amazing how the bright light of media attention helps to bring sanity to the chamber!
Raise your hand if you trust Alabama Republican legislative leaders to define “legitimate journalism” in Alabama. Well, they’re doing it anyway. Tuscaloosa Rep. Chris England took to Facebook to post a list of criteria that reporters will have to meet if they’re to receive press credentials & be allowed inside the press rooms at the State House.
According to this list, a reporter must be paid and submit documentation from his/her employer. And that’s just the beginning.
Here’s the list that Rep. England shared. The legislature is expected to vote on this change as early as this afternoon.
- A media representative shall be admitted to the floors of the House or Senate or allowed press privileges if the person is a salaried staff correspondent, reporter, or photographer employed by any of the following:
a. The news department of a federally licensed television or radio station, or the news department of a network providing coverage to television and radio stations.
b. A newspaper of general circulation providing print or online editions for the dissemination of news of a general character, which has a bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers, and has been established, printed, and published at regular intervals.
c. A wire service providing news service to newspapers, television, or radio stations as referred to above.
d. Internet news services and bloggers associated with any of the previously listed categories.
- Applicants seeking press credentials are required to submit documentation from their employer certifying that they are engaged primarily in reporting the sessions of the legislature. The applicant must also certify that, with the exception of the Alabama Press Association and the Alabama Broadcasters Association, and the exception of receiving advertising revenue, they have no affiliation with any person, firm, corporation, association, or political party that attempts to influence legislative issues or lobby members of the Alabama Legislature.
- Applicants unable to comply with the aforementioned certification requirement will not be issued legislative press credentials, but will still be free to cover sessions of the Alabama Legislature from the public galleries located on the sixth and eighth floors.
Any person who is discovered to have misrepresented themselves to obtain legislative press credentials will have their credentials denied or revoked.
Let’s look at what’s happening here:
- So a blogger just has to be associated with a “legitimate” news organization? Heck, AL.com lets anybody with a keyboard spew commentary at will. Let’s all submit op/eds!
- How will the Legislature decide if a publication meets their “paid subscription” criteria? With the way newspaper circulation is falling, print reporters need to be looking over their shoulders.
- What salary level makes a reporter “legitimate?” And how does one prove that? Who wants to share their tax returns with Mike Hubbard?
- Other than the Montgomery Advertiser, what news outlets have reporters who “primarily” report on the legislature? Staff is stretched so thin that a reporter might cover a legislative story in the morning, a car wreck over lunch, a heartwarming pet story in the afternoon, and then do a stand up about Mike Hubbard’s arrest on corruption charges for the evening news broadcast. Does that count?
- But don’t worry, if you can’t get credentials, you’re still “free to cover the Legislature” from the public galleries. Except…. have you ever tried to get into the gallery when a hot issue is being debated? Get there early and don’t eat or drink anything. If there’s a line of people waiting for seats, even a quick restroom break is out of the question.
Hmmm… so why might the legislature want to shout down scrappy little independent blogs & news outlets? Maybe it’s that they preside over one of the most corrupt states in the country, so having someone who isn’t dependent on ad revenue and high-level access looking over their shoulders is a bit inconvenient.
We wrote about this issue in December, and noted that it appears to be aimed primarily at the Alabama Political Reporter, an online-only organization that hasn’t been afraid to rattle the cages of of Mike Hubbard, Del Marsh, & other GOP heavyweights. The staff endured a lot of ridicule and abuse from politicos and fellow reporters – right up until Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard posed for his mug shot.
The APR also has a lengthy editorial about the issue today:
I don’t think it is any deep secret that all this energy devoted to stripping the people of Alabama of one of their most cherished liberties is aimed squarely at the ‘Alabama Political Reporter,’ but when politicians realize that they can walk all over anyone’s liberties they have a historical tendency to expand on their trampling of other people’s liberties.
Translation: Alabama “legitimate” journalists need to speak out & fight back against this silly effort to define journalism. They could be coming for you next.