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Editor’s Thought Bubble: The Senate is using COVID to bar reporters

By: - February 3, 2021 9:45 am

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Under the guise of COVID restrictions, the Arizona Senate has reneged on its promise that it would keep the building open to the media, so the press could have access to staff and senator as it did its job of reporting on the chamber’s work and kept the public informed. But this week, the Senate deactivated all of the ID badges for media members that allowed them to access the building, an action first reported by Julia Shumway at the Arizona Capitol Times.

Reporters are still allowed inside the building to attend the daily floor session, but were barred this week from attending the Rules Committee and caucus meetings, both of which are open to the public (by Senate rule) and are conducted in rooms where there are no live-streaming cameras, making remote attendance impossible. Both are vital to covering a legislature: The Rules Committee is where staff attorneys alert lawmakers to potentially unconstitutional legislation and caucuses are where each party has often frank and spirited discussions about bills that are set to be considered by the full Senate.

The change comes after the Senate removed the press from the chamber’s floor and relegated reporters to the 3rd floor gallery, a change that means senators can no longer be approached by journalists when they show up for the daily floor session. At that time, Senate President Karen Fann told Yellow Sheet Report (a high-priced insider newsletter and sister publication of the Capitol Times) that if she was going to “bend over backwards” to give reporters access during the pandemic, she wanted the press to “be fair” and not only cover the “bad things” happening in the Senate.

If Fann and others in the Senate can’t handle the media attention that comes along with being a public official, perhaps they should find other ways to serve their state and communities. Using the pandemic to bar reporters from doing their jobs and holding elected officials accountable is disgraceful and as anti-American now as it was in 2016 when the House of Representatives sought to bar the Capitol Times from that building because it didn’t like the paper’s reporting.

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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. He has also served as the editor and executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.