Governor vetoes bill allowing journalists to interview inmates
CALIFORNIA–Gov. Pete Wilson in early October vetoed a bill that would have overturned California’s policy that bars face-to-face media interviews with prison inmates.
The bill, which enjoyed widespread bipartisan support in both houses of the state’s legislature, would have restored the right of journalists to conduct scheduled interviews with specific prisoners. The legislation also would have allowed inmates to correspond confidentially with members of the press.
According to the Society of Professional Journalists, Wilson said in his veto message that the bill would allow the media to make “celebrities” of inmates. “This notoriety also enables the thugs to gain stature within the prison community that often encourages negative behavior by other inmates, thereby threatening the safety and order of the institution,” he said.
Wilson also said media attention is counterproductive to the state’s goal of making prisoners feel remorse for their crimes.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco) in April after the state granted a request by the Office of Administrative Law to permanently ban face-to-face interviews. Strongly supported by the Society of Professional Journalists and other media and citizen organizations, the bill easily passed the Legislature. The Senate approved the bill in mid-May by a 22-8 vote, sending it on to the Assembly, which passed it 54-19 in early September. The bill then went back to the Senate, which, by a vote of 27-8, approved amendments passed by the House.
“Free nations don’t hold prisoners incommunicado,” said Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Simi Valley). “In order for citizens to exercise their powers, it’s important for them to know the truth, and the current department policy shuts out the ability of the public to exercise its responsibility.” (S.B. 434)