Legislative leaders reject Statehouse credentials for ColoradoWatchdog.org

From ColoradoWatchdog.org:  Statehouse leaders affirmed a committee of journalists’ recommendation to reject press credentials for Watchdog.org, raising questions about both journalistic ethics and the First Amendment in the state’s vetting process, ethics experts say.

In 2008, the state Legislature sought to limit access to the House floor to “bona fide” journalists because some political organizations were using journalist status as a cover to get access to lawmakers, according to a history of the process.

Lawmakers asked statehouse correspondents to form a “standing committee” to recommend who is and isn’t a valid journalist. Then the House and Senate leadership selected the organizations that receive credentials, which are necessary to get on the House and Senate floor and obtain office space in the press room.

But journalism professor Edward Wasserman, dean of the journalism graduate school at the University of California-Berkeley, said Colorado’s process blurs ethical boundaries and subverts the First Amendment.

“To the degree that (journalists are) now beholden to the government for letting us come in and get a benefit, they might not write something the government doesn’t like,” he said. “It’s a very subtle lever of influence.”

Wasserman said the best method would be for lawmakers to tell the committee the number of spaces available in the press room or on the floor and let journalists decide who gets access, based on the content the news organizations produce.

The current way is “incompatible with the First Amendment,” Wasserman said.

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