June 13, 2017 Last Updated 5:24 pm

Senate Republicans ‘crackdown’ on media access in the Capitol, then reverse course

The new rule, which was quickly dropped, barred interviews in the hallways of the Capitol come as GOP senators attempt to pass an unpopular new health care bill with minimal review from Democratic colleagues or the media

This site won’t be live come the end of the month (summer break explained here), but just as there is a flood of news every single weekday these days, there is bound to be big stories breaking on that final week of June. One of them involves the Senate attempting to pass the American Health Care Act, the replacement for the ACA or Obamacare.

As you may aware, the Republican Senators crafting the bill have sent it to K Street lobbyists, but not to their fellow Senators, and not to the public. In fact, the plan is to try and pass the bill without it ever actually seeing the light of day, other than immediately before the vote.

Today, Senate leaders, knowing that their members will be asked about details of the bill every time a reporter is near them, ruled that reporters will no longer be able to film interviews with senators in the hallways of the Capitol.

Through the afternoon reporters complained about the new rule, but later the Senate Rules Committee reversed course: “You may continue to follow the rules as if it was yesterday.”

Later, the News Media Alliance issued a statement thanking those involved in helping reverse the decision.

The move was, no doubt, a reaction to the crowds of reporters that daily descend on the Capitol as politics has become all consuming. If there is a serious problem with overcrowding and aggressive reporters thrusting microphones into any politician who happens to walk by, then a solution can surely be found. Several legislators, and more than a few reporters, have remarked that at some point someone is bound to get hurt.

But the decision to bar reporters from interviewing senators was one made without consulting Democratic senators, leading one to conclude that the only reason for new rule is to ease the pressure on GOP legislators as they try and pass the new health care bill without oversight from the media. One can understand the Senate leadership’s dilemma: a recent Quinnipiac poll found that only 17 percent of those surveyed approve of the new health care bill, while 62 percent disapproved.

(This story was updated as the story unfold this afternoon.)

The Coverage:

The Hill, Alexander Bolton:

Senate Republicans crack down on press access

Senate Republicans on Tuesday shocked the Capitol with a crackdown on media access that immediately drew criticism from reporters and Democrats.

Reporters were told they would no longer be allowed to film or record audio of interviews in the Senate side hallways of the Capitol without special permission.

Television reporters will now need permission from senators, the Senate Rules Committee, the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms or the Senate Radio and TV Gallery, depending on location, before conducting an on-camera interview with a senator anywhere in the Capitol or in the Senate office buildings, according to a Senate official familiar with the matter.

HuffPost, Michael Calderone:

Journalists Face New Limits On Press Access In Covering Congress

Though the Capitol has been particularly crowded lately with reporters, the sudden directive raises serious concerns about the ability of the press to hold elected officials accountable. It also comes as Republican politicians around the country have appeared emboldened by President Donald Trump’s persistent attacks on the press.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, was reportedly behind the decision, with even some members of his own committee apparently learning about the news from Twitter.



Freedom of the press is not just under threat in the US. In the past few days concerns have been raised about eroding press freedoms in several other countries.

The Guardian, Justin McCurry:

Japan accused of eroding press freedom by UN special rapporteur

The UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression has accused Japan of eroding media freedoms and stifling public debate of issues such as the Fukushima nuclear meltdown and the country’s actions during the second world war.

In a report submitted to the UN human rights council, David Kaye said he had identified “significant worrying signals” about Japan’s record on freedom of expression.

Columbia Journalism Review, Joel Simon:

Will the Japanese media stand up for press freedom?

At a time when democratic values are under siege around the world—most notably in the United States—Japan’s leadership is vital. But Japan can’t lead if press freedom, a central pillar of its democracy, continues to be eroded.

Japanese media organizations don’t live for scoops. They value institutional loyalty and celebrate access. This structure had made it difficult for Japanese journalists to confront emerging threats, according to a new report from the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, David Kaye.

The Diplomat, Vishal Arora:

Is Press Freedom Under Attack in India?

India’s premier investigative agency recently raided the homes and offices of Dr. Prannoy Roy and his wife Radhika Roy, the founders and promoters of NDTV Group. NDTV includes one of India’s oldest private English news channels, which has been critical of the current government. While the case, on paper, is about “causing an alleged loss to a bank,” many believe it was meant to punish the media company for its coverage.

The Washington Post, Vidhi Doshi:

Crackdown on Indian news network sparks fear that press freedom is under threat

“In American media, it is considered patriotic to question and make the government accountable, here to be patriotic is to just agree with everything the government says,” said Prannoy Roy, speaking to The Washington Post.

India ranks 136th on the World Press Freedom index, slipping three places since last year. Dissenting voices are often silenced using sedition laws. More than 51 freedom of information activists have been found murdered since the law came to force in 2005.

Major corporate owners also limit the diversity of India’s media: Although India has 86,000 newspapers and over 900 television channels, a handful dominate. Reliance, one of India’s biggest companies, owns News-18, which dominates coverage on a number of popular TV channels and magazines.

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