As three new reporters prepare to join the Daily Press Galleries’ Standing Committee of Correspondents, the current panel has proposed the first comprehensive overhaul of the galleries’ rules in more than 50 years.
Although the committee has established a number of policies over the past several decades to govern accreditation and other issues, the formal rules of the gallery have not been altered. The rise of Internet-based publications and the general increase in the volume and variety of media outlets have made it more difficult to apply the old rules to the new environment.
The biggest catalyst for this proposal was last year’s fight over granting credentials to the Web-based publication WorldNetDaily. The site was eventually admitted to the gallery, but only after an acrimonious battle during which the committee questioned WND’s independence from a nonprofit group and the Web site launched a negative publicity campaign against committee members and gallery staff.
“I think the obvious trigger was the litigation of the WorldNetDaily application, which forced the committee … to take a look at the rules,” said Bloomberg News reporter Bill Roberts, the outgoing chairman of the Standing Committee. “Lo and behold, the rules don’t say anything about credentialing Internet publications.”
The committee will propose to make five basic changes in the rules that would:
• formally adopt guidelines for credentialing foreign government-owned and Internet-based publications;
• make clear that only publications funded chiefly by advertising, subscription or sales can be accredited;
• officially require reporters to “adhere to ethical standards” and generally behave well;
• require the Standing Committee to distribute a new handbook of rules and procedures at the beginning of each Congress; and
• grant nonvoting membership in the gallery to the newspaper Stars & Stripes.
The gallery has had an informal policy regarding accreditation of Web publications since 1996, but Congressional lawyers told the committee during the WorldNetDaily fight that the lack of formal rules could prove legally problematic if a publication charged, as WND did, that it had been unfairly denied admission.
The issue of admitting publications owned by foreign governments has also sparked controversy in the past, as some critics have wondered why publications controlled by autocratic governments could be credentialed while the U.S. government-owned Stars & Stripes could not.
Because many of the guidelines covering the gallery’s operations have long been unwritten, it can be confusing for publications seeking credentials to understand how the process works. That’s where the proposed handbook would come in.
“We have put together a handbook of existing rules, policies and procedures. It’s the baton that this committee will hand off to the next,” said Roberts.
Roberts’ term on the Standing Committee has expired, as have those of Donna Smith of Reuters and Jim Kuhnhenn of Knight Ridder. Roberts said Kuhnhenn was instrumental in assembling the proposed rules changes.
Those spots will be taken by the three reporters elected to the committee in last week’s gallery elections — Jim Drinkard of USA Today, Jesse Holland of The Associated Press and Mary Agnes Carey of Congressional Quarterly. Scott Shepard of Cox Newspapers and Jack Torry of The Columbus Dispatch will remain on the panel.