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Florida newspaper locked out of governor's year-end press conference

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Florida newspaper locked out of governor’s year-end press conference

  • Reporters from The Palm Beach Post, a 500,000-circulation daily, were not invited to attend Gov. Jeb Bush’s annual press conference because of one reporter’s “unprofessional behavior.”

Dec. 16, 2003 — Florida Gov. Jeb Bush blacklisted The Palm Beach Post newspaper from his year-end press conference, to be held tomorrow afternoon, for what his office described as “unprofessional behavior.”

Since being elected in 1998, Bush has held the annual question-and-answer session with all members of the capital press corps. Reporters are divided into groups of seven or eight, with each group getting approximately 20-30 minutes with the governor in his office.

Alisa LaPolt, president of the Florida Capital Press Corps, an independent subgroup of the state’s press association, says the interviews are “not really useful,” as the governor typically touts his past accomplishments and explains what he hopes to accomplish in the year ahead. However, the governor should not be allowed to exclude any media organization from covering his office, LaPolt says.

“My concern is that the sitting governor is making news, but then throwing up barriers for one organization to cover that news,” she said.

In an e-mail message sent to Bush’s communications director, LaPolt said such action could be perceived as a “slippery slope.”

“Regardless of the reason, it gives the appearance that Gov. Bush will retaliate against any news organization that questions his administration,” LaPolt wrote.

The Palm Beach Post, a 500,000-circulation daily newspaper, has written numerous stories about Florida’s school voucher program, which provides poor and disabled students with public funds and tax-credited corporate donations to attend private schools. Over the past five months, the Post has written more than 60 stories and editorials concerning problems with the program, including a lack of oversight by the Department of Education.

Jill Bratina, director of communications for the governor’s office, says many media organizations in Florida have reported about problems with the voucher program, as well as a litany of stories that put the governor in an unfavorable light. No other media organization that regularly covers the capital has been excluded from tomorrow’s Q&A session, she says.

“It is the manner in which their reporter has addressed members of my staff as well as employees of the governor’s office,” Bratina said. “We’re taking steps to make clear that such behavior is not condoned.”

Bratina declined to discuss a particular incident, simply saying that her office “would never prevent a reporter from talking with or interviewing the governor.” The Q&A session is different, she said, because it will take place in the governor’s office, where an “atmosphere of professionalism” is expected.

Shirish Date, the paper’s Tallahassee bureau chief and lead reporter, referred questions to his deputy managing editor, who did not return a phone call seeking comment.

JL


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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