KITTLE: Stand up against political free speech infringement

Friday, November 16th, 2012

By Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON —  In June, just days after Wisconsin’s historic gubernatorial recall election, Wisconsin Reporter’s Ryan Ekvall was kicked out of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s state convention.

It was the third time in less than a year the DPW denied Wisconsin Reporter, a statehouse-credentialed news organization, partial or complete access to a party event. Vice President Joe Biden’s people also didn’t want us around. Same goes for Milwaukee mayor and former gubernatorial recall candidate Tom Barrett.

Political parties have trampled on First Amendment rights in politically divided Wisconsin.

We certainly aren’t alone in experiencing First Amendment obstructionism.

In the heat of the presidential election, a reporter for Madison’s WTDY News was barred from entering a Mitt Romney campaign event featuring Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

Partisan obstruction — also known as trampling all over First Amendment rights — has been part and parcel of Wisconsin’s bitterly divided political scene for the better part of the past two years.

Let’s not be naïve. Parties and politicians have forever tried to stymie or control the news. But keeping reporters out of political functions has become common practice among Badger State partisans.

The latest example came election night, when the U.S. Senate campaigns of Tommy Thompson and Tammy Baldwin restricted journalists’ access to their victory parties. The feel, according to reporters, was like cattle locked crammed together in a cattle car.

For those who hate the media — and there are many in that club — such treatment may warrant no tears. But for those who love the freedoms of the First Amendment and the power of information, the restrictions, limitations and quarantines placed on journalists and the public at large should be nothing short of appalling. These acts have a chilling effect on public dialogue, democracy and free enterprise.

Therefore, Wisconsin Reporter wholly endorses the following statement on media access from the Madison professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. We publish it with the consent of the organization:

 JOURNALISTS SHOULD HAVE BROAD ACCESS AT CAMPAIGN PARTIES

MADISON — After a hard-fought campaign, Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Tommy Thompson discovered common ground on Election Night — both restricted journalists’ access to people attending their victory parties.

The Baldwin and Thompson campaigns corralled journalists into a holding pen of sorts, restricting their movements through the event. Similar limits were not in place for other members of the public. As Jessica VanEgeren of The Capital Times describes the circumstances in an article published online Friday, the campaigns also sent minders to follow and question journalists who dared to leave the pen.

These restrictions were only the latest imposed on the press during the election season. Over the course of the campaign, candidates or their campaign officials:

  • refused to give interviews to certain news outlets or journalists.
  • barred some journalists from their events.
  • sought to control who could be interviewed at campaign events, or prevented access to supporters altogether.

The Madison pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists believes a healthy democracy requires a free press, and that candidates and elected officials impinge on press freedom by employing tactics that prevent journalists from covering events, candidates and elected officials, and supporters.

In the future, we encourage political candidates to:

  • allow journalists access to supporters and others at Election Night and other campaign events.
  • allow all journalists to cover events.
  • conduct interviews with a wide range of news outlets and journalists.

Furthermore, we continue to encourage elected officials, their spokespersons and their staffs to respond to journalists’ inquiries in a timely, straightforward and honest manner.

A well-informed public depends upon the work of a vigorous, yet fair, press. The press has an obligation to uphold the highest standards of ethical conduct in performing its work. Government officials and candidates for office must respect the work of journalists who serve as the eyes and the ears of the public.

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