(WASHINGTON) July 13, 2017: The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) today objected to what could be an upcoming move by the U.S. Senate Rules Committee that would make it more difficult for broadcast and other reporters to question senators about public policy in the U.S. Capitol.
There are reports that the Senate may be considering ending the years-long practice of allowing reporters to use video and audio recording equipment to interview senators in Capitol hallways. However, Rules Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, (R-AL) issued a statement saying that there were no rules changes. Existing rules, while currently not enforced, require advance permission for interviewing senators about of designated areas. Should the Senate decide to renew enforcement of those rules, access to lawmakers would become more restricted.
Joining the RTDNA in this objection to any change in current practices are the National Press Photographers Association, Reporters Without Borders, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Press Club and the National Press Club Journalism Institute, PEN America, the Online News Association and the Journalism and Women’s Symposium.
“This is another attempt at obscuring transparency in Washington,” said Mike Cavender, RTDNA executive director. “At a time when senators are already doing too much business behind closed doors, such as on the health care overhaul, further limiting access to senators in the hallways of Congress represents just one more effort to keep the public’s business private.”
The rule changes initially reported would require reporters to obtain permission in advance from the senators they wished to interview, as well as permission from the Senate Rules Committee and the Sergeant at Arms to use video or audio equipment in hallways in the Capitol.
RTDNA notes that several members of the Senate protested when it appeared the rules had been changed. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, tweeted “This is no time for limiting press access in the U.S. Senate.” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) tweeted “This is a bad idea.”
The move the restrict access follows a letter sent to reporters last month by Senate officials warning that “Collectively, the press following senators have become large and aggressive. We are concerned someone may get hurt.”
The RTDNA does not feel rules changes are proportional to the safety threat.
“In no way does RYDNA condone an atmosphere in which someone might be hurt in the process of routine newsgathering,” Shelley said. “However, today’s new restrictions appear to be an overreaction. It is the duty of the Senate Sergeant at Arms and U.S. Capitol Police to protect everyone’s safety, but, in our view, not through such draconian means.”