U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalists removed from Iowa Senate floor, overturning a century-old practice

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 7, 2022
Location
Des Moines, Iowa
Targets
Media

Denial of Access

Politicians or Public Figures Involved
January 7, 2022

Republican leaders in the Iowa Senate issued new rules moving reporters off the Senate floor and into a gallery upstairs, overturning a longstanding practice, the Des Moines Register reported on Jan. 7, 2022.

According to the Register, for more than a century journalists have been permitted to work at press benches along the front wall of the chamber which allow a clear view of debate and access to the senators. When the new session begins on Jan. 10, journalists will be seated in a public gallery on an upper level without access to the Senate floor.

Senate Republican spokesperson Caleb Hunter said in an email to statehouse reporters that the Senate struggled with the changing definition of “media” when considering journalists’ access to the chamber, according to the Register.

"As non-traditional media outlets proliferate, it creates an increasingly difficult scenario for the Senate, as a governmental entity, to define the criteria of a media outlet," Hunter wrote. Hunter did not respond to an email requesting further comment.

Iowa Capitol Press Association President Erin Murphy, Vice President Kathie Obradovich and Secretary Katarina Sostaric criticized the move in a statement published by the association.

“Media access to the people who make laws is a critical component of representative government. Primarily for this reason, the Iowa Capitol Press Association is extremely disappointed in th Iowa Senate’s decision,” the statement said. “In moving reporters off the floor, the Iowa Senate becomes one of only a handful of state legislative chambers across the country to limit access in this way, according to information from the National Conference on State Legislatures.”

The Iowa House has pledged to maintain press work stations on the chamber floor. The Washington Post reported that, unlike the Washington press corps covering Congress and the White House, space for journalists at the Iowa Capitol is allocated by the party controlling each chamber. Both the Iowa House and Senate, as well as the governor’s office, are controlled by Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls told the Post that Senate Democrats oppose the change and will introduce a measure to overturn it, but that it will be an uphill battle.

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