RCFP expresses concern about Nebraska governor’s decision to deny press access to local news outlet
Update: On July 21, 2021, the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts approved the credentials of journalists for North Omaha Information Support Everyone.“It’s good news,” Myles A. Davis, interim executive director of NOISE, told the Omaha World-Herald. “We’re happy we can get back to doing our jobs.”
Update: After the letter from the Reporters Committee, the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts updated its media credentialing application. The new, more streamlined application invites not only traditional news media to apply but also online-only news outlets, like NOISE. And it no longer requires a notarized letter verifying employment. However, the new application still asks fairly invasive questions about a news outlet’s funding, whether it engages in editorial writing and whether it is a member of trade associations. It’s unclear what relevance this information has to “operational limits” and “security” — the stated goals of the credentialing process. Also, while applicants no longer have to attach examples of their reporting, they still have to include links to their reporting, which seems unnecessary. The Reporters Committee hopes this does not mean that credentialing decisions will be made on the basis of the perceived viewpoint of an applicant’s reporting, as this would violate the First Amendment.
In a letter submitted to Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts on April 29, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press expressed concern about the governor’s recent decision to bar a local news outlet from attending his press briefings.
Ricketts denied North Omaha Information Support Everyone, or NOISE, access to press briefings because his administration considered the news outlet to be “an advocacy organization funded by liberal donors.” The Reporters Committee’s letter, joined by 12 news organizations and one journalism professor, disputes that characterization, noting that NOISE is a nonprofit news group and part of the Institute for Nonprofit News, which requires that its members “do not advocate or operate in a way that promotes any legislation, policies, government action or outcomes.”
“In any event,” Reporters Committee attorneys argue, “the First Amendment prohibits government officials from attempting to suppress a news outlet’s expression because of its viewpoint — or perceived viewpoint — and denying access to press conferences on these grounds is thus unconstitutional.”
The letter raises additional concerns about the new media credentialing process adopted by the governor following publicity about his administration’s decision to deny access to NOISE. The Reporters Committee notes that members of the news media have pointed out that some of the questions included in the application are “unduly invasive.”
“Given the reasons you previously asserted for denying NOISE press credentials,” the letter states, “we are concerned that this new application process may be used as a pretext to exclude NOISE and others whose perceived viewpoints are disfavored under the guise of neutral factors.”
The letter urges the governor to reconsider his administration’s media credentialing process “with the aim of providing access to all bona fide journalists and news outlets, including NOISE.”