AP, Reuters Decide to Boycott South Carolina Debate

Well, this is interesting … Politico is reporting the Associated Press and Reuters have decided to not cover a presidential candidate debate sponsored by the South Carolina Republican Party and Fox News Channel citing restrictions the organizers are imposing on still photography.

“The debate sponsors, Fox News Channel and the South Carolina Republican Party, will only allow photos to be taken in the moments ahead of the debate and not during the event itself,” the AP said in an advisory to editors.

“These are restrictions that violate basic demands of newsgathering and differ from other debates where more access was granted. Accordingly, the AP will not staff the event in any format nor will the AP disseminate any pool photos taken by another outlet.”

The AP said the decision was “consistent with longstanding policy” in coverage of events like these, and would be reassessed “should access conditions change.”

It’s the last part there that bothers me – the “consistent with longstanding policy” part, because that seems to contradict what they have said about covering the White House during live presidential speeches. To quote from a post on the Poynter Institute yesterday:

“AP understands why the still photographers are not allowed into the live address area and the captions disclose that these are re-enactment situations as well,” says David Ake, the Associated Press’ assistant bureau chief for photos in Washington.

Because of the noise from the camera shutters and the placement of the teleprompter, “we are not able to photograph those events.”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit there’s a big difference between a presidential address to the nation and a pre-primary debate, but what’s the message here? The president can dictate what the AP will shoot but potential future candidates can’t?

Maybe, maybe, the AP is putting it’s foot down now so if one of these candidates makes it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue they’ll have a better understanding of the need for a completely free and open press.

Please don’t think I’m taking this lightly or picking on any news organizations – this, to me, is a big issue and one that goes to the credibility of journalism and our right to a free press. I know that there are serious conversations going on amongst those who cover the White House (and all of Washington) right now. I’m happy they are having that conversation and know that this is an incredibly complex situation. I have a purist, quite possibly overly simplistic, view of all this.

Please keep talking about this.

(Thanks to the NPPA’s Twitter feed for the link.)

Mark E. Johnson

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