The Rio Grande Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists condemns efforts Friday by the state’s Legislative Education Study Committee to restrict journalists’ access to a public meeting.
The committee, comprised of 10 state representatives and senators, held a scheduled meeting at Hawthorne Elementary School in Albuquerque with a single agenda item: to hear suggested remedies from plaintiffs in the landmark Yazzie school funding lawsuit, which the state lost this summer.
During the meeting, legislative staff harassed and interfered with reporters from KUNM who were attempting to record and livestream the open meeting. Staff asked if the journalists had permission to record the meeting. Committee chair Sen. Mimi Stewart threatened to enter closed session. Staff blocked KUNM reporters from accessing streaming technology.
These actions are a clear and troubling violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act, which reads in part, “All meetings of any committee or policymaking body of the legislature held for the purpose of discussing public business or for the purpose of taking any action within the authority of or the delegated authority of the committee or body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times.”
Stewart, in a Twitter exchange with reporter Marisa Demarco, stated “This IS ongoing litigation with an appeal by the PED. I have allowed full access, over objections but there will not be many questions because the suit is still active.”
The efforts by the LESC are particularly troubling because, as Demarco noted, Hawthorne Elementary is in a low-income area of Albuquerque whose residents will be directly impacted by the state’s remedy to the Yazzie decision.
Efforts to restrict public access to the workings of government by hindering journalists are unacceptable, and SPJ Rio Grande Chapter will oppose them at every turn.