Citing a need for security, Los Angeles City Council president Herb Wesson is about to restrict City Hall access to all but a few full-time City Hall reporters. If successful, a network of doors used by journalists to access City Council's Media Room, hallways, the president's podium, an area where pending motions are filed, and other crucial access routes will be accessible only to a small group of print and radio reporters.
As City Council president, Eric Garcetti tried to put police between reporters and L.A.'s elected officials in 2010, but failed when the media and public raised their voices. Now, a new Council president is again attempting to restrict access to City Council members and meetings, this time with assistance from the LAPD. TV crews will be greatly impacted, as will reporters who report on City Council when stories merit coverage.
L.A.'s journalists are meeting with Wesson's "security" team at 10:30 a.m. Friday, March 21 at City Hall. It's time to reach out to Wesson, whose office phone number is (323) 733-8233. Your help will be gratefully appreciated.
From John Schwada of the Society of Professional Journalists...
City Hall, if left to its own devices, will soon implement security measures that threaten to further erode the access reporters to City Council members and officials.
Council President Herb Wesson and the many councilmembers who are graduates of the Sacramento legislature apparently want to re-create at City Hall the same security blanket-environment that encloses and protects Sacramento lawmakers from the media.
In short, President Wesson and company want to create an expanded no-fly-media-zone at City Hall. Make no mistake: this is an attempt to chip away the media's historic access prerogatives.
The proposed new edict will basically allow only City Hall's regular reporters, i.e. ones with offices at City Hall, to access the Official Press Room (the room where news conferences are often held) and the corridors behind the council chambers. These are areas where reporters have historically gathered and informally and effectively button-holed and interviewed lawmakers and city officials for years.
Security measures already now prevent direct access to these areas via that well-known corridor behind the council chambers. But savvy media visitors have developed a work-around by taking a detour through the working press room offices to get to the Official Press Room and the corridors at the rear of the council chambers. Now President Wesson and company are trying to close that "loophole." If they get their way, entrance to the working press room area will be locked and accessible only to a handful of reporters (who have offices at City Hall) with security swipe cards.
What's next? Shooing reporters off the podium and the council floor entirely and requiring them to observe council meetings from a 'safe distance,' such as a special area set aside on the floor of the Council chambers? That's the way it works in Sacramento where the media is kept in a virtual cage. This has all the earmarks of a Sacramento-mentality at work.
Representatives of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Radio and TV News Assn. (RTNA) will be meeting at 10:30 am tomorrow (Friday, March 21) with President Wesson's office to challenge this move done, of course, in the name of "security."
Please send the President a polite but forceful email urging him to stop trying to curtail the media's access. Let your voice be heard.