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Journalist barred from recording, removed from New Mexico Senate proceeding

February 6, 2020

Rachel Knapp, a reporter for dual CBS/Fox-affiliate KRQE, was barred from recording and removed from a state Senate committee meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Feb. 6, 2020.

Knapp wrote an account of the incident for the outlet, describing the lawmakers’ behavior as “bizarre.”

According to Knapp, Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, vice chair of the Senate Conservation Committee, interrupted the chair to note that Knapp was filming and ask if she had received permission or would like to request it. While committee meetings are streamed through a webcast, Senate rules at the time barred anyone from photographing or recording audio or video without permission from the committee chair. KRQE reported that it never saw the rule enforced, and that a sign posted outside the room to notify the public of the policy noted that the news media was exempt.

“I figured, it was a public meeting,” Knapp said, identifying herself as a member of the press. A second senator then expressed opposition to her filming, according to KRQE.

“I just prefer this not to be spliced and edited to be used against someone and have someone not be totally truthful in their comments in a bill because they’re worried how something might be splashed and cut in a newscast,” Sen. Pat Woods said.

Seconds later, Sedillo Lopez said, “OK, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

KRQE reported that the sign noting media exemption was removed after its broadcast about the incident.

Bill Anderson, general manager of KRQE, told the Albuquerque Journal that the incident was unacceptable, adding that he assumed it was an “error in judgement.”

“Nothing good happens in government when these people close the door and want to talk when no one’s listening,” Anderson said.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that Sedillo Lopez had overstepped the bounds of the policy by asking Knapp to leave.

“The rule doesn’t allow for that at all,” Steinborn said. “That incident was rightfully embarrassing to the institution: It shined a light on the problem and made it an imperative to fix it.”

In late January, Steinborn had proposed a resolution to change the rule and allow for both the public and media to record and photograph meetings. The resolution passed without opposition on Feb. 12, after the incident with Knapp.

Steinborn told the Tracker that seeing a crowd of people pull out their phones to take pictures a few days after the resolution passed was heartening.

“It was the best endorsement that we could have that, of course, we had done the right thing,” Steinborn said. “It was a good thing for democracy and a good thing for the citizens of the state.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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