WTVM Editorial: 2/21/18: First Amendment fight

(WTVM) -  A routine interview of a Georgia State Senator is now at the heart of a First Amendment stand-off at the state capitol.

The media as a whole is always an easy target for critics, especially now and sometimes with good reason.

But in the case of an Atlanta reporter just doing her job, threats to revoke her press credentials seems to be a severe over-reaction.

Here's what happened. A reporter for Atlanta station WGCL asked for and conducted a routine interview with state senator Burt Jones, who stopped in a public hallway at the capitol to politely answer her questions. He never objected to the interview which appeared completely professional.

But the chief of staff for the Senate Rules Committee didn't like it and he fired off a letter to that reporter, accusing her of ambushing the senator.

That man is Steve Tippin, who sent his letter not just to the reporter involved, but to the entire Senate press corps, threatening revocation of all reporting credentials unless they followed some unknown and previously undisclosed interview rules, that do not exist.

The Georgia Association of Broadcasters, of which I am currently a board member, has joined forces with Georgia's First Amendment Foundation to protest the threats made by Tippin against all reporters at the capitol.

When those organizations protested the threat in a letter, Tippin, responded that the letter "was the reason lawyer jokes exist."

The First Amendment certainly gives him the right to say what he likes.

But no amendment gives a state employee the right to threaten reporters and try to keep them from doing their jobs.

Denying media access to lawmakers in a public building looks like a power grab and seems to be an over-the-top reaction to a simple interview done in a capitol hallway.

We hope the Senate Rules Committee reconsiders this clear violation of the First Amendment by leaving qualified reporters alone to do their job.

General Manager Holly Steuart brings two editorials a week to WTVM. If you would like to respond to an editorial, e-mail your response to hsteuart@wtvm.com or write to:

WTVM Editorial Committee

1909 Wynnton Road

Columbus, GA 31906

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