Why won't City Hall respect this paper's First Amendment right?
BY DAN VUKELICH
Through the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, I’ve discovered the City doesn’t have a written news media policy.
Records show that last July, during the mayor’s brief stab at transparency, a city employee emailed municipalities across the country asking how they treat the news media. By and large, the answers went something like this from Portland, Ore.: “I’ve never said no to anyone who wants to receive our press releases or press alerts.”
You can imagine that getting information from the city about breaking police and fire news, the mayor’s and top city officials’ availabilities, news conferences and the like would be important to us.
Well, we get none of that.
We learn about news conferences when we see them on TV. Same with Gorden Eden on the steps of APD headquarters taking questions from reporters. Do we have questions for the mayor and Eden? You betcha.
Instead, we get news releases entitled, “Collaborative Spirit Defines New City – ACVB Contract,” and “Video Launched to Encourage 311 App Downloads” and similar pablum.
We routinely received news alerts until January, when we were dropped from the list. When we inquired of Rhiannon Schroeder, the mayor’s spokeswoman, she promised to look into it but never replied further. That happens a lot with her. When we emailed APD spokesman Tanner Tixier, he did not respond.
On March 7, I appeared before the City Council to alert councilors of the mayor’s and APD’s disparate treatment of this newspaper. Under questioning by councilors, City Attorney Jessica Hernandez revealed there are multiple news media notification lists.
(Watch Burque Media Productions’ full video of the interaction.)
I told the City Council there is an almost identical case in Santa Fe District Court against Gov. Susana Martinez, filed by the Santa Fe Reporter. The suit alleges that the governor has frozen the Reporter out of everything. No phone calls, no emails, no notices of news conferences, zero, zippo, nada.
Mayor Richard Berry and Martinez share a scorched-earth political adviser, Jay McCleskey, who adheres to a policy of rewarding friends while punishing enemies. Perhaps our Dec. 30 cover of a 911 dispatcher fielding a call from a drunken woman saying “Pizz-zah” pissed off Jay and he called down to Berry and said, screw ‘em.
We’ve gotten the same freeze-out from the governor as the Reporter, by the way, although some state agency spokespeople put their jobs on the line by occasionally calling us back – or maybe they never got the memo.
At City Hall, there is evidence of enmity toward us. Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, in response to a story we broke last year, told KOAT-TV’s Nancy Laflin to discount what we wrote because we’re “an underground newspaper.”
In all, between this writer and Associate Editor Dennis Domrzalski, we’re something like 0-for-50 in calls, emails and texts to City Hall seeking comment. It’s their right not to talk to us if they don’t want to tell their side of the story, but we believe they’ve gone too far.
There is federal case law that a government entity can’t engage in “viewpoint discrimination” against a media outlet because of its religious affiliation or critical news coverage. Doing so violates the news outlet’s First Amendment right. That’s the premise of the Reporter’s case against Martinez before District Judge Sarah Singleton.
We’ll soon find out then whether the Susana-Berry practice of choking off public discourse, rewarding friends and punishing enemies with tax dollars, and turning public information officers into ministers of propaganda will be tolerated.
Dan Vukelich is editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at email@example.com
(Updated March 25 to correct the name of the judge hearing the Santa Fe Reporter’s case)
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