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State capitol implements background checks for reporters

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  1. Newsgathering

    NMU         PENNSYLVANIA         Newsgathering         Sep 6, 2002    

State capitol implements background checks for reporters

  • Media are concerned about the impact of new background checks for statehouse reporters in Harrisburg.

A Pennsylvania state department recently announced it will limit access to the Capitol complex for all Capitol newsroom reporters who do not pass a criminal background check beginning Sept. 9.

“Since 9/11 we had to re-evaluate our security,” said Samantha Elliott, spokeswoman for the state Department of General Services that is charged with protecting the Capitol complex in Harrisburg.

“We oppose the attempt. It’s an ill-conceived policy,” said John Baer, president of the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association and reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News. “I don’t like government dictating policy to a free media. If anyone should be dictating, it should be our employers, not the people we’re covering.”

Nearly half of the reporters who cover the Capitol are stationed within the complex and have had access to private entrances and a reserved underground garage parking space. These reporters must now obtain a background check from the state police at their own expense of $10 to continue that access, according to an Aug. 30 memo from DGS.

The DGS memo calls the background checks “voluntary.” Those who opt not to undergo a criminal background check or those who are found to pose a security risk will still be able to enter the complex through one of the five secured public entrances. All media electronic equipment as of Sept. 9 will be screened at the entrances.

Capitol press corps, who cover rallies in the rotunda, press conferences, legislative sessions and committee hearings, are concerned about the policy’s impact.

“If I’m delayed … my job has been impacted and in turn the public’s right to know has been impacted,” said Capitol Wire reporter Michael Race.

Baer said that the state Chief of Staff David Sanko will meet with the PLCA as soon as Sept. 9 to discuss concerns, including the absence of a written policies for the checks, what types of offenses will deny access, and whether or not newsgathering will be impaired.


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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