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SPJ to Senators: Don't Boot Media from Press Galleries
Contacts: Al Cross, SPJ president-elect, 502/648-8433 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Ray Marcano, SPJ president, 937/225-2323 or email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS - The Society of Professional Journalists urges the U.S. Senate to abandon its plan to evict the periodical and photographic press galleries from their spaces in the U.S. Capitol.
SPJ President-Elect Al Cross sent a letter Monday to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., and Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., expressing the Society's deep concern over the plan eliminate these galleries on the Capitol's third floor.
"The tradition of galleries for the public and the press, which act as the eyes and ears of the public, is a long and respected one in our republic," wrote Cross, a political writer and columnist for The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal.
"While there have been changes in newsgathering and congressional procedure in the decades since the photographic and periodical galleries were established, these galleries are still needed."
The Senate's plan - announced last Friday after regular business hours - would lump all journalists into the daily and broadcast galleries, which already are overcrowded. Further suggestions have been made that all media galleries should be removed from the Capitol.
"Evicting the periodical and photographic galleries could be the first step in such a plan," Cross wrote, "and either case flies in the face of the principles of open government and freedom of information - principles that are at the heart of the First Amendment, our democracy and the work of the journalists that our organization represents."
The proposal to shrink space for galleries - or eliminate them completely - has set off a firestorm of criticism from reporters and photographers covering Washington. Capitol Hill officials have charged that Daschle started the chaos in an effort to expand his office space.
Galleries are made available in the Capitol so that journalists can have timely access to lawmakers and use computer workspace, telephones, message services and various reference materials when covering Senate proceedings.
"We hope this is a simply a momentary lapse in good judgment," said Ray Marcano, SPJ president and an assistant managing editor at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. "Evicting the press from its quarters is akin to shutting off access to the public. I'm sure that's not what our lawmakers intend."