Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Online Journalists Fight for Equal Status in House

This article was originally featured in the Augsburg Echo

A battle over access to the Minnesota House of Representatives has been waged by the Online Media community in the Twin Cities after finding that on Feb। 9 of this year, Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein was called on by President Obama at a White House press conference। This display angered many Minnesota online journalists who currently do not have the same privileges in the Minnesota House of Representatives that Stein was awarded in the White हाउसCurrent House policy in Minnesota prohibits online-only media from obtaining the same press credentials as their colleagues who work in television, print, or radio।

The current House Majority Leader, Rep। Tony Sertich, DFL, told the Minnesota Independent last week that the House doesn’t have a “fully defined policy of what online media is. 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.”

Despite opposition from House leaders, the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists released a formal statement in support of Online-only media equity, saying that “If the Legislature is concerned about the conduct of individual reporters, existing rules and procedures can be utilized। If the problem is one of space, then the criteria for distributing media passes should be equitable for all journalists, not arbitrarily discriminatory based on an outlet’s medium.”

Independent online journalist and producer of MyFreeRadioNation।com, Martin Ownings, shared his experience at the Minnesota House with KFAI Radio news this week. On two separate occasions, Rep. Sertich’s staff asked Owings leave events which did not require any press credentials for admittance. Owings says there are no current rules restricting cameras at these types of public meetings, but that the discomfort with the presence of his camera was palpable. When Owings resisted their request he said he was told,” if you don’t come with me, I’ll have you physically escorted out.”

“A representative from the Sergeant at Arms office approached me and said ‘You’re gonna have to come with me’,” said Owings। When asked if Owings thought the reason for his dismissal had to do with his well-known online video blog (or vlog), he replied with a resounding “yes.”

Last week, several members of the online media community gathered to lobby the Minnesota House of Representatives for equal access to press credentials for the House press conferences। Owings, who attended the hearing, said that the sponsor of H.R.A 007 (the rule amendment that would include online media in the House) was temporarily dismissed because the chief sponsor, Rep. Steve Smith, Rep., could not attend the proceedings that day. Owings has received no personal responses to his calls to Rep Sertich, but his legislative aide, Lisa Radick, told Owings “that they are trying to do everything they can to come up with some rules that would pertain to online journalists.”

Owings maintains that this issue “transcends political ideology and speaks to our first amendment rights to freedom of the press.” He added that “these are public institutions that, for better or worse, need to be transparent in their dealings,” and that the House members’ current policy is an “injustice to the people of Minnesota.”

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