Press to adhere to legislative ‘dress code’

Last month state lawmakers passed
new capitol press rules that had many
in the media upset and concerned about
infringements on their fi rst amendment
rights. The new policy requires members
of the press to sign a 17-point agreement
before they will be allowed access to the
fl oor.
The general concern is that the
media will no longer have free access to
cover legislation or act as government
watchdogs.
Rep. John Coghill, a co-author of the
Joint House/Senate Capitol Press Rules
said the policy in no way infringes on fi rst
amendment rights.
“The rules only apply to access to the
fl oor when we’re gaveled in,” said Coghill.
“Misinformation has gotten out there.
that somehow we’re going to censor the
media, and that’s just not true.”
Coghill said the new rules are only
about limiting access to the fl oor and
not to the legislators. He said that since
Gov. Palin’s rise in popularity, there has
been concern in the House of too many
reporters trying to gain access to the
fl oor.
“The rules give Alaska media
preferential treatment,” Coghill said.
Under Rule 14, due to limited space,
if there is high demand, those who have
been frequenting the fl oor for consecutive
years, will be immediately granted
access, while others will be put on a wait
list. The House fl oor only has room for
approximately seven reporters.
Juneau Empire political reporter Pete
Forgey said he wasn’t sure where the rules
stood, as far as them being offi ciated, but
he knew he had no interest in signing
them.
“I was briefl y upset when I heard about
them,” Forgey said. “But I haven’t really
thought about them since.”
Forgey, who has been reporting on the
legislative sessions for a few years, said
he had no trouble obtaining his press pass
this session.
Oghill said there was really no reason
for anyone to be upset, that the new rules
are old rules put to print.
“These are all rules that I’ve been
enforcing for the past 10 years,” Coghill
said. “Now they’re formal. It’s dress code,
not engaging a legislator in conversation
while you’re on the fl oor. general rules
of conduct.”
In fact, most of the 17 rules are
common etiquette, adhered to all over the
nation.
Initially there had been a rule that gave
legislators the right to redraft or change
the rules after the journalist had signed
them. That rule was short lived.
The one rule that still has some within
the press furrowing their brow is Rule
2, which states, that should a medical
emergency occur on the fl oor, cameras
and sound equipment are to be turned
off.
Coghill explained that this is to allow
medical staff easy and clear access to
treat someone in need.
“It doesn’t seem right to me,” said
Forgey. “If someone has a medical
emergency on the fl oor I should be able
to report on it.”