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Editor’s Thought Bubble: A victory for media access is a victory for the public

By: - April 28, 2021 9:33 am

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As of yesterday afternoon, local reporters were allowed into Veterans Memorial Coliseum to do their jobs covering the audit being conducted by Senate Republicans and their team of thoroughly biasedconspiracy-theory-spreading, auditors who sought to overturn the 2020 election because they disagreed with the outcome.

Jen Fifield, the Arizona Republic reporter who was there as an official audit observer on the very first day and reported on obvious violations of state law, was the first local reporter to take a shift in the new press pool covering the audit on Tuesday afternoon.

That there is a press pool at all is due to the efforts of a coalition of media organizations and interests over the past week or so, after it became crystal clear that Republicans and the auditors planned on barring journalists from doing their jobs — and making sure the auditors are kept accountable. Arizona Mirror joined with the Arizona Republic and the Arizona Broadcasters Association to fight for media access to the audit site.

Over the past week, our attorneys at Ballard Spahr, led by local media law icon David Bodney, hammered out an agreement with the Senate and the auditors that lets reporters, photographers and broadcasters in the building while the ballots are being counted. The result is important: Arizona news organizations will now be able to keep their readers and viewers informed as to what is happening on the floor of the former basketball arena. An informed public is one that can hold the powerful to account.

That the auditors have been so keen to keep their work shielded from public view is frightening. In addition to blocking media access to the audit site for a week, they have held only one 15-minute press briefing, not the daily question-and-answer session that was promised. (But Ken Bennett, the Senate’s liaison to the auditors, found time to go on a closed social media platform to conduct a Q&A with pro-Trump and QAnon people.) Likewise, the auditors fought to keep the public and media out of the court hearings in the lawsuit Democrats have filed to stop the audit, and they continue to insist that the policies and procedures guiding their work — policies and procedures that, importantly, have seemed to change on a daily basis — should be kept secret.

The work that the Mirror and other media entities have done, and continue to do, to ensure access to important government work continues. Lawyers aren’t cheap, but the stakes are too high and the consequences of choosing only to complain from the sidelines about being shut out demanded that we put our money where our mouth is and fight for what is right.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.