Senator Bill Frist, M.D., Senate Majority Leader
Washington, D.C. 20510-4205
Dear Dr. Frist:
The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, asks that you reconsider the recent decision to continue to limit the rights of broadcast journalists working in the Capitol. We urge you to give broadcast journalists and their camera crews the same rights that are afforded to print journalists on Capitol Hill.
For years, print journalists have enjoyed opportunities to set up stakeouts in the media-rich Ohio Clock corridor while broadcast journalists have been left asking permission before taking any action. Excluding television stations is discriminatory. As a public figure charged with upholding the laws of our great nation, you have an obligation to eliminate discrimination.
Requiring broadcast journalists to seek permission from Capitol Hill leaders before they may set up cameras in the corridor compromises the public’s right to know. While it may be a long-standing policy in Congress, such actions belittle the newsgathering process, because journalists are unable to report the news to your constituents as it happens. Such footage is a valuable asset to local television stations, which are able to present local angles to national news stories.
The policy also calls into question issues of the First Amendment and freedom of the press – a value every public official should strive to uphold daily. By forcing broadcast journalists to seek permission, you and other members of Congress could be seen as attempting to further control the message as well as news coverage. This is hardly democratic, much less a true example of what constitutes a fair and open press.
When it comes to Washington politics, it appears broadcast journalists are not on an even playing field with their print counterparts. Therefore, we urge you to reconsider amending this poorly written public policy.
In an era where transparency has never been more important, SPJ believes that such a move could truly win the hearts and minds of not only the journalism community you depend upon to communicate your work, but also your constituents who have placed their trust in you to make decisions in their best interests.
David E. Carlson
President, Society of Professional Journalists