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Mississippi State Department of Health policy discriminates against freelance journalists

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  1. Newsgathering
The department’s new policy restricting freelance journalists from accessing information is unconstitutional. It’s also bad policy.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is urging the Mississippi State Department of Health to rescind its new policy restricting freelance journalists’ timely access to press conferences and other public announcements through its media distribution list.

“This new policy is discriminatory and violates the freedoms of speech and of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment and the analogous provisions of the Mississippi Constitution,” Reporters Committee attorneys wrote in a letter sent to health department officials on June 24.

Without explanation, the health department revised its media distribution lists last year to remove freelance journalists, preventing them from attending live press conferences about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and receiving timely announcements about other important issues.

In addition to violating the First Amendment, Reporters Committee attorneys argue that the policy is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses.

It’s also just bad policy, the letter states.

“Denying freelancers access to MSDH press conferences harms Mississippians by limiting their sources of timely information,” Reporters Committee attorneys argue. “MSDH’s new policy also directly undermines Mississippians’ ability to follow the work of their government and hold MSDH accountable to the public.”