116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Republican leaders who control the Iowa Senate have made a misguided decision that harms journalists’ ability to cover legislative actions affecting millions of Iowans. We urge them to reconsider.
GOP leaders have banished reporters from press benches on the floor of the Senate where they have worked for a century or more. Iowa is now among a handful of states that deny news media access to the floor of a legislative chamber.
Republicans who complain reporters don’t get it right are now making it more difficult to get it right.
Now, reporters covering the Senate are relegated to the rafters, working from space in a public gallery high above the Senate floor, with an obstructed view of the floor. They worked from the galleries in 2020 and 2021 in what was seen as a temporary pandemic measure. Curious, though, considering how Republican legislative leaders resisted most COVID-19 mitigation measures, such as masking.
Now it appears to be a permanent decision to deny reporters a front-row seat to monitor senators as they do the people’s business.
As with most decisions made by politicians, politics is involved. Statehouse Republicans have moved heaven and earth to keep liberal blogger Laura Belin, who runs the Bleeding Heartland news site, from gaining Capitol press credentials. Now, in the Senate, they’re removing all reporters from the floor, arguing that non-traditional outlets make it too hard to define “media.”
There’s really no lack of media space on the floor, so why not allow a broad array journalists to cover the Senate? Not liking what journalists write is an unacceptable standard for media access.
Republicans routinely bash the media. On Monday Senate President Jake Chapman accused the media and public school educators of having a “sinister agenda” by critically covering his crusade to remove books he believes are obscene from school libraries.
But it’s the practical effect of the new rule that matters more than the politics.
Providing Senate floor workspace to reporters gives them important access to senators and staff when they need clarification or an explanation of what’s happening during debate and other action. That access, and having a close view of what’s happening, makes journalists’ stories clearer and more accurate. Republicans who complain reporters don’t get it right are now making it more difficult to get it right.
Iowans must depend on news reports to know what’s happening in the Legislature. Far-reaching legislation is being debated, from budget bills spending billions of taxpayer dollars, to significant law changes and measures affecting Iowans’ constitutional rights. We depend on Statehouse reporters to cut through the spin from politicians and special interest groups to tell us what’s really happening.
Hampering that coverage is a blow to the public’s fundamental right to know. Put reporters back on the Senate floor.
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