Longtime Fox 11 political reporter John Schwada isn't so sure he likes the compromise media access rules put forth last afternoon by City Council President Eric Garcetti's new press deputy. The clarified rules followed a morning dust-up with the City Hall media corps. Schwada's email is after the jump
From: John Schwada
Sent: Wed 5/12/2010 12:42 PM
To: John Schwada
At least some of us City Hall press corps members see Council President Eric Garcetti's "compromise" media-access initiative as highly dubious. Yusef Robb, Garcetti's new press person, told me Tuesday evening that the written rules would NOT be rescinded. These rules, of course, are the ones that an energized media - with some remarkable and notable exceptions - loudly protested. It now seems that if Garcetti has his druthers there now will be a compromise, consisting of "informal" rules governing media access to council members. If read carefully, the new "informal" rules (as outlined in Robb's note to the media, published this morning in LA Observed) actually go further than the written rules (but I suspect actually spell out the real intent of the old ones); the "informal" ones forbid reporters from even having "conversations" with councilmembers on the council floor except to request permission to interview them in the back hallway or the media room (the old ones only said we could not "interview" councilmembers on the floor). Old or new, these restrictions, as I'm sure legions of veteran City Hall reporters will attest, amount to a huge infringement on media access and our traditional prerogatives - if it is enforced.
Which brings me to my second point: the danger of "informal" - unwritten? - rules of media access. Now, don't we all (I risk venturing into the land of hyperbole here) know of scores of contemporary and historic examples of dictatorships that, at least on paper, support civil rights but - in reality and practice - abuse and ignore them. This precious distinction between written rules and "informal" rules - that can be made up, ignored, denied depending on the whims of the "authors" and whoever happens to be in power - should not be lost on the many avowed champions of transparency at City Hall who, as legislators also presumably share our respect for the principle of the written codification of laws. Moreover, by leaving the draconian written rules in place we can possibly be hammered by them as well. Which rules are we to obey - the ones in writing, the ones dreamed up on the fly, by council leaders and their overzealous sergeants-at-arms?
And let's take a closer look at the rules actually committed to writing and endorsed by Garcetti, Jan Perry and Dennis Zine (interesting that no one seems to know who drafted the rules, a mystery that KABC reporter Michael Linder, says confirms the "elves theory" for explaining council actions). If taken at face value the written rules most onerous conditions would be: 1) the media could not "interview" (read - talk to) councilmembers on the floor; 2) the media would be required to STAND on the sidelines, behind columns and rows of desks occupied by council staff and translators; this confinement, is meant, as anyone who has covered Gov. Schwarzenegger or president's knows, is meant to wear down the media, by keeping them in uncomfortable surroundings while the governing lords sit in their comfy chairs); and 3), most egregiously, if really taken on their face, the rules could be interpreted to mean that each day, each reporter would have to get permission from a councilmember EVEN to gain access to the council floor - and the right to stand behind the columns or on the tiny dais area. Outrageous! This third, last rule was probably - even in the council leadership's most venomous vein - NOT meant to be so punitive. Still, the door is left open to that interpretation. That such unintended language should seep into their six little rules is emblematic of a council that, quite frankly, can seldom shoot straight. This is, after all, the same body that failed for five years to rein in medical marijuana dispensaries, was horribly confused about whether their recent DWP rate hike was "temporary" or "permanent" and has shown itself - along with the mayor's office - to be a stumbling performer when it comes to managing the city budget.
This, of course, leads to a final point: Despite the council's silly, unfounded claim that the media is being disruptive of their meetings - thus the need for the rules - the strong suspicion is that the real motive force behind all this is to cripple a media that in recent months has been unflattering in its portrayal of council performance.