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Support to Florida journalists facing Governor’s selective handling of media

Media-unfriendly: Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks to the audience at the Florida Venture Capital Conference at the Westin Diplomat hotel on February 4, 2011 in Hollywood, Florida.

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has urged Florida’s new Governor, Rick Scott, to explain his handling of the media since he has been brought into office on January 4, 2011. RSF is worried that his media policy has been skirting with press freedoms.

For example, during his post-inauguration ceremony, on the 22nd Floor of The Capitol, Scott carefully “cherry-picked” which journalists he wanted in, and which he wanted out - a pooling process in which RSF looks down upon with disappointment, as it clearly disobeys press freedoms. Commenting on the pooled post-inaugural ceremony, Marc Caputo, political writer for the Miami Herald, told RSF: “It was a good example of needlessly closing an event or needlessly insisting an event should be pooled when it shouldn’t be.”

Michael C Bender, politics reporter for the St Petersburg Times, told RSF: “There was plenty of access to the governor during the campaign. He did a state wide bus tour and invited reporters to tag along the whole time.” In her article, Lucy Morgan, St Petersburg Times Senior Correspondent, said: “He refused to meet with editorial boards, but allowed reporters on his campaign bus.” However, during the campaign, the Orlando Sentinel was considered as “hostile.”

This is the first time journalists in Florida have faced such harsh restrictions. RSF spoke to Jim Baltzelle, President of the Florida Society of New Editors (FSNE) [], who shared: “Usually there is rotation or the press decides who is involved with a pool situation, not the governor, so for us, this is a First Amendment issue.” Baltzelle continued: “Though it can be understandable when there is only one seat available on an airplane, and similar circumstances, pools in general are a bad idea.” Therefore, the FSNE has decided to write a formal letter to Gov. Scott expressing their concerns and offering their assistance and hoping for a broader understanding.

David Royse, Executive Editor of the News Service of Florida, told RSF: “In the Bush and Crist administrations, sure, there were some minor skirmishes with access, but nothing this contentious.” Royse continued by saying: “[The Governor] said he was trying to increase access by creating pooled events, where otherwise he wouldn’t be required to let reporters in. This makes it difficult to argue that he was cutting off access.”

Barbara A Petersen, President of the First Amendment Foundation (FAF), spoke to RSF about access to records and meetings: “There are signs that Gov Scott’s and his staff are trying to control which information gets out.” Petersen continued: “With Gov Scott’s administration, there are fewer people authorized to address the media, so if the media is not getting the information they request from the governor’s office, then they have to make a public records request.” Hopeful for the future, Petersen said: “Under public records law, there is a steep learning curve Gov Scott’s administration has to endure. Everyone has been very patient and are waiting to see.”

Since Gov Scott entered office, 92 media requests have been made. As of February 8, 2011, 88 per cent of those have been completed - 72 fully completed and 11 partially completed. An additional 38 request from non-media organization have been made, and 33 of them have been completed. Considering Gov Scott is new to office, this large volume of requests is reasonable and seem to be dealt with in a relatively timely manner.

Mary Ellen Klas, Tallahassee Bureau Chief of the Miami Herald, said: “We would like to work this all out. We just want to tell the story.” Since it is still early in Gov Scott’s administration, Baltzelle and his colleagues have reason to believe that: “Maybe his administration’s treatment of reporters will be perceived as a misstep and maybe things will improve - this is what we are hoping.” Various journalists in Florida agree with these ideas. After all, Gov Scott has reaffirmed support from the Office for Open Government.

Date posted: February 10, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 104