The office of Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti this week issued clarified rules regarding news media access to the body during public meetings.
Following a minor beef between the City Hall press corps and some on the council over unilateral rules that seemed designed to muzzle an increasingly critical media, the new regulations seem to be acceptable to scribes who met with Garcetti spokesman Yousef Robb Tuesday afternoon. The rules, however, could make it difficult for bloggers and other independent journalists to cover City Hall.
The regs as spelled out by TalkRadio 790 KABC reporter Michael Linder could limit press coverage of the council. “Only credentialed media and those involved in council meetings will be allowed behind the ropes during meetings, unless specifically invited by a member,” according to Linder's account.
Credentialed essentially means those with Los Angeles Police Department press identification cards, which are really supposed to only go to those in the media who cover police regularly. (A letter from one's editor and an FBI background check is also a part of the process).
While this doesn't seem to be much of a change from what was practiced previously at City Hall, it still means that elected L.A. leaders are requiring that the free press jump through the hoop of having to be credentialed by the LAPD.
Perhaps Garcetti's office should let the LAPD know that it's using the department's credential process as a velvet rope for City Hall media. And Garcetti's folks might want to lobby LAPD Media Relations and the chief to expand eligibility for the cards — which had been tightened in recent years — to include those very members of the free press who want to cover City Hall.
Other rules, according to Linder, include:
Unless conducting official business, aisles must be kept clear (stay behind the black marble floor lines and pillars). Media may enter aisles to request an interview from a member or their staff. Individual members may request that they not be disturbed during Council meetings and those requests must be respected.
Sergeants may begin clearing aisles 15 minutes before meetings per existing Council rules. [Note: This explains the expulsion of KNX and KFI from chambers before a recent council meeting convened.]
Off-camera interviews may occur freely away from members' desks and off the aisles. [Note: aisles are defined as the passageway between Council members' desks and the black marble floor line and pillars.]
The platforms on the dais to either side of the President's desk are reserved for media. Preference shall be given to video and still cameras. In the event that the dais is full, the Council President's staff shall make accommodations as appropriate/feasible.
Television reporters whose cameras are on the dais may stand alongside. Radio reporters using the dais mult-boxes may do the same. No sitting on dais steps. Council President's staff will discuss chairs on a case-by-case basis.
The first two rows of the gallery, to the right as the clerk faces the gallery, shall be reserved for the media. Sergeants may seat others there, but space must be made for the media.
The staff of the Council President shall be responsible for addressing any questions/concerns/accommodations from the media raised during meetings and will work with them to find a solution on site.
While radio, print and Internet may conduct interviews behind columns and in the gallery, television will be expected to record its interviews in the media room. Council is concerned about the disruptive effect of TV camera lights on the floor of Council chambers during meetings. Council members need not excuse themselves from Council meetings to adjourn to the media room. TV interviews conducted in chambers after the close of Council meetings are fair game.