By Don Knox, STATE BILL COLORADO
DENVER — An advisory committee that screens journalists for access to legislators at Colorado’s Capitol has met secretly since 2008 to make formal recommendations to the House speaker and the Senate president.
Unlike at least one dozen other committees advising either the legislature or the governor, or both, meetings of the standing committee of the Colorado Capitol Press Association are not open to the public. They also are not tape recorded. Minutes of the meetings, if taken, have never been released. It’s not publicly known how many times the five-person committee has met.
The CCPA, whose recommendations have proven key to deciding which journalists get House and Senate floor access and which do not, was authorized in late 2007 by then-Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald and then-House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Though the advisory committee purports to represent members of the media, its members are not elected by the media, as are members of similar committees that operate at the U.S. Congress.
A dozen similar Colorado advisory committees with Web sites were recently reviewed by State Bill Colorado. The Denver-based news service found that, in all other cases, committee meetings were announced in advance and were open to the public. Many of the committees publicly posted to the Internet their meeting agendas, and a majority posted summaries of what transpired at those meetings.
Several attempts last week by State Bill to reach the CCPA standing committee were unsuccessful.
The CCPA standing committee recently sent a mass e-mail to Colorado journalists indicating it would once again be conducting journalist and photojournalist reviews for the 2010 Colorado General Assembly. The session begins Jan. 13.
“Greetings from the state Capitol,” the Nov. 30 e-mail read. “This email is a reminder that again this year, reporters and photographers will need a press credential to get access to the floors of the House of Representatives and state Senate. … Credentials are issued by the Speaker of the House and Senate President, who look to the CCPA for recommendations.”
The e-mail, reprinted below, does not state how the CCPA will conduct its journalist reviews for the 2010 session. In previous years, some applicants were summarily denied. Others were asked to appear to answer questions from standing committee members.
All meetings were conducted behind closed doors.
When it makes its recommendations, the committee typically checks a box on the application that says the applicant doesn’t meet required standards, though it does not identify the specific problem, or problems, with the application.
Journalists with bona fides
At the time they created the CCPA, the top leaders of the Senate and House indicated that they wanted to keep lobbyists and partisans from masquerading as journalists to gain floor access.
The CCPA advises that applicants “must not be engaged in any lobbying or advocacy, advertising, publicity or promotion work for any individual, political party or movement, corporation, organization, or agency of the U.S. or Colorado government, or in prosecuting any claim before the General Assembly or Colorado government.”
The legislative leaders who created the CCPA also feared that bloggers would descend on the Capitol, snatching floor seats ordinarily used by traditional media representatives from print, TV and radio.
In fact, only a few bloggers have applied for access. None were recommended for credentials.
The CCPA standing committee is composed entirely of members of the traditional media. The current members are Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel; Bente Birkeland of Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a consortium of public radio stations; Joe Hanel of The Durango Herald; Adam Schrager of KUSA-TV; and Eli Stokols of both KDVR-TV and KWGN-TV.
The journalists’ arrangement hasn’t come without criticism. A number of prominent journalists, including Bob Moore, the editor of The Coloradoan in Fort Collins, and the board of directors of the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society Professional Journalists, have questioned the need for and wisdom of journalist credentialing. A decision by the committee to recommend against giving credentials to Denver’s homeless newspaper, The Denver Voice, was ignored by then-Senate President Peter Groff, who granted access.
State Bill Colorado, which publishes electronically at www.statebill.com, was not recommended for credentials by the CCPA. A sister publication, Law Week Colorado, was recommended for credentials. Unlike State Bill, Law Week publishes both online and as a print weekly newspaper (a format that may be more familiar to traditional readers).
Open, by comparison
State Bill’s review of other government panels looked at panels with “advisory” in their titles. The committees surveyed by State Bill also had Web sites.
A dozen examples were found. They are the Colorado Capitol Building Advisory Committee, the Chemical Demilitarization Citizens Advisory Commission, the Community Corrections Advisory Council, the Emergency Medical and Trauma Services Advisory Council, the Forestry Advisory Board, the Colorado Historical Records Advisory Board, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Advisory Council, the Colorado Municipal Bond Supervision Advisory Board, the Governor’s Advisory Council for Persons With Disabilities, the Pollution Prevention Advisory Board and the Radiation Advisory Committee.
Of the dozen, all indicated meeting times and locations on their Web sites. When it came to posting meeting agendas, all but one did: the Forestry Advisory Board. And 75 percent — nine of 12 — posted summaries of their meetings.
The three that did not were the Forestry Advisory Board, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Advisory Council and the Colorado Municipal Bond Supervision Advisory Board.
At least one of the councils, the Colorado Capitol Building Advisory Committee, makes publicly available recordings of its committee meetings.
None of the councils had streaming recordings of their meetings posted to their Web sites.
The findings of State Bill’s survey are published at the top of this story.