* This letter was addressed to the governor and Iowa General Assembly. Numerous news outlets across Iowa signed the letter as a show of support, including Maquoketa Sentinel-Press Publisher Trevis Mayfield.
I write to you on behalf of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. We are an education and advocacy organization that was established 40 years ago by leaders from across Iowa — business executives, representatives of broadcasting and publishing, attorneys, educators, librarians and open-government advocates — to provide a shared voice on issues affecting open government and government accountability.
There has been much discussion in Iowa in the past two months about the criteria for journalists wanting media credentials to cover proceedings in person of the Iowa Senate, Iowa House and the governor’s press conferences. The questions have arisen over the decision to deny Laura Belin credentials to cover the House from inside the chamber and from the requirements communicated to Ms. Belin that both House and Senate credentials are necessary to participate in the governor’s press conferences in Des Moines.
The Iowa FOI Council is concerned about these decisions. But our concerns are more broad and fundamental than simply the response to Ms. Belin’s request.
Without regard to the editorial views of journalists or their employers, the Council believes Iowa government leaders should be encouraging journalists to cover the important policy discussions, deliberations and decisions by the General Assembly and by the governor — rather than discouraging coverage through arbitrary rules that we believe deny media credentials to legitimate reporters.
At a time when the number of reporters employed by traditional media outlets is declining nationwide, the role being played by non-traditional media is growing in importance. The Iowa Supreme Court was cognizant of this fact in 2014 when the Court expanded the definition of news media eligible to cover court proceedings using computers, smart phones and still and video cameras inside Iowa’s courtrooms.
Iowa Court Rule 25.1(5) contains the following definition, which we think should guide leaders of the General Assembly and the governor’s staff in determining who is eligible for media credentials:
“News media” includes any person who regularly gathers, prepares, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information about matters of public interest in any medium and who successfully applies to participate in expanded news media coverage and agrees to comply with all court rules.
The Iowa FOI Council does not believe it is appropriate for decisions about access to the press bench in the House or Senate or to the governor’s press conferences at the Capitol to be based on how a reporter’s content is distributed, whether the journalist is paid, whether the journalist is supervised by a manager, or whether the journalist writes opinions or produces news analyses as part of his/her journalistic reports.
The controversy that has enveloped Ms. Belin’s application for House credentials stands in stark contrast with the tradition of openness to in-depth media coverage that the General Assembly and Iowa’s governors, Republicans and Democrats, have long facilitated.
The following undersigned members and friends of the Iowa FOI Council encourage Governor Reynolds, House Speaker Upmeyer, Senate President Schneider, Chief Clerk Boal and Secretary Smithson to immediately revise your policies and practices on media credentials and to begin granting them in ways that are above question and that ensure fairness and equality of access.
Thank you for your consideration of our concerns and suggestions.
Iowa Freedom of Information Council