RTDNA and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force today demanded that the press office for the Georgia State Senate rescind its threat to revoke press credentials for a television journalist who had the audacity to ask questions of a state senator in the public hallway of a public building, the Georgia State Capitol.
As reported by Meredith-owned WGCL-TV, Atlanta, chief investigative reporter Jonathan Carlson, the chief of staff of the Georgia Senate Rules Committee, Steve Tippin, sent a letter on senate letterhead to WGCL reporter Giovanna Drpic claiming that she had “ambushed” Senator Burt Jones (R-Jackson).
In video of Drpic’s interaction with Jones, she is shown casually walking alongside the senator. They then stop and he willingly consents to an on-camera interview. Watch the encounter here and judge for yourself whether it was an ambush.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Tippins blind copied his threat to the “entire Georgia Capitol press corps.” WGCL’s Carlson reports that “the letter, which was addressed to Drpic, was sent to the entire press pool that covers the legislature[, e]ither in [an] attempt to publicly discredit Drpic, or worse, intimidate every member of the media into following vague or unwritten instructions or risk losing access.”
The Georgia First Amendment Foundation and the Georgia Association of Broadcasters joined a WGCL attorney in seeking a retraction from Tippins. His response to the station’s attorney stated, in part, "Your letter is the reason lawyer jokes exist."
Thus far, Tippins has refused to rescind his threat, but did issue a statement to WGCL:
While substantial disagreement remains about the impetus of my letter from February 7 the senate shall continue to promote open and unfettered access to its members and to the legislative process, while nevertheless insisting that members of the media observe the standards of professionalism and the decorum that is expected of all other men and women who come to work here at the capitol.
Tippins’ threat appears to be part of a trend to restrict press freedom in the Georgia Senate. Multiple Murrow Award winner Brendan Keefe, chief investigative reporter for TEGNA-owned WXIA-TV in Atlanta, told RTDNA:
The senate used to allow an unlimited number of credentials per outlet but restricted it to five after I did a critical story on the chair of Health [and] Human Services committee who is also a policy executive with the state's biggest health vendor.
“The actions of the chief of staff of the Georgia Senate Rules Committee is an affront not only to Drpic and the rest of the Georgia Capitol press corps but, more important, to the people of Georgia,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director. “Whenever a public official denies access to journalists, or even threatens to do so, journalists are not the victims. The real victims are members of the public those journalists serve,” he added.
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. RTDNA is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats against press freedom in America. Reach out to RTDNA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org