Darcie Lunsford, President South Florida Pro Chapter 954/949-7523
Wm. F. Hirschman, Freedom of Information Chairman 954/478-1123
The South Florida Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and its
national organization is outraged at the Palm Beach County Election
Supervisor’s change in policies that led to the arrest of a freelance
journalist James S. Henry on Sunday and its efforts to prevent journalists
from covering the voting process.
Supervisor Theresa LePore – with no notice to anyone in the
media and changing what had been policy for weeks – banned interviewing or
photographing voters lined up on a public street outside her election office
over the weekend except from a tent 100 feet away.
Our ongoing inquiry into the arrest, which has gone beyond the
two deputies interviewed by the sheriff’s office, reveals at least three
differing accounts without even having reached all the parties yet. In some,
the journalist is blameless; in others, the deputy acted correctly; in
still, others, both parties may have acted injudiciously.
But what emerges clearly is LePore’s new policy is at best an
overreaction and at worst what appears to the public to be an effort to
cover up a quagmire.
The policy blocking journalists’ monitoring of the voting
process is debatably unlawful and unquestionably unwise. We believe the
state law cited by the sheriff’s office and LePore’s implementation of
Governor Bush’s directive to an Orange County election official is being
applied in an unconstitutionally overbroad manner. The alleged and as yet
unsupported existence of complaints that voters were intimidated by
reporters and photographers did not result in anyone leaving the line. To
the best of our knowledge, journalists immediately complied when voters
declined to be interviewed or photographed.
The Society of Professional Journalists urges election officials
today to allow the nation's news media to provide the coverage that will
help legitimize an important election
A free press operating freely is one of the best protections the nation has
against flawed or fraudulent elections. Excluding the press from serving as
independent observers will only serve to cast a cloud of illegitimacy over
elections in case of disputes and false rumors.
The Society, the nation's oldest and largest journalism organization, warns
against rules, such as those imposed by LePore.
“Americans must know that journalists are watching the elections process,
and have access to the voters,” said Charles N. Davis, executive director of
the Freedom of Information Center and co-chair of SPJ’s Freedom of
Information Committee. “Policies that serve to restrict the press frustrate
the democratic process by removing the watchdog.”
The Society's President, Irwin Gratz says , "It seems to me any rule like
this has less to do with protecting voters, than protecting officials who
generate long lines by failing to adequately prepare for an election with
enormous voter interest."
"What would we say if journalists in a foreign country were
unable to document complaints about long lines of voters?"