Staff Editorial

Iowa Legislature must adopt sensible rules for media access

The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Iowa House leaders made a mistake when they denied media credentials to a prominent Iowa political commentator last month.

Laura Belin is a well-known blogger at her website Bleeding Heartland, where she covers Iowa politics from a Democratic perspective. The chief House clerk, who is appointed by majority Republicans, and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office declined to fill Belin’s requests for official media access, and have repeatedly failed to offer a reasonable explanation. The whole ordeal smacks of undue partisan bias.

Any member of the public can wander the Statehouse and seek sources to interview, but credentialed media can access designated work space and also attend news conferences with legislative leaders and the governor.

The obvious and immediate solution is for staff members in the Iowa House and governor’s office to grant Belin credentials. We urge them to do that, but also go a step further by establishing a fair credentialing process to avoid similar problems in the future.

Belin is an expert at obtaining and interpreting government documents. She has years of personal experience tracking Iowa politics and policy debates, along with a large network of highly engaged sources. Yes, she is an active Democrat, but she also criticizes fellow Democrats from time to time.

By almost any reasonable standard, Belin is a real journalist, and an accomplished one at that. But even if she were a partisan hack like her critics claim, she still would be entitled to the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Iowa House rules refer to “representatives of the press, radio and television,” but don’t offer a more detailed definition. A literal reading would seem to exclude anyone who works in a web-only format.

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That standard clearly is outdated, and legislative leaders know it. Bloggers have been credentialed before, and it’s worth noting Iowa newspapers were explicitly partisan for much of Iowa’s history.

To rectify the situation, the Iowa Legislature should adopt an inclusive, light-touch policy for granting media credentials. The judicial branch’s definition of news media would be a good model — “any person who regularly gathers, prepares, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information about matters of public interest in any medium.”

Additionally, the Legislature’s credentialing policy should designate a reliable, independent entity to review and approve applications. The Legislative Services Agency, which already manages many other administrative functions, seems like an appropriate fit.

The majority party has many prerogatives in the legislative process. Withholding full access from certain journalists should not be one of them.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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