By Don Knox, STATE BILL COLORADO
A panel of journalists that plays a crucial role in deciding which reporters get face-to-face access to legislators on the floor of the state Capitol is again gearing up for business — and causing controversy.
The standing committee of the Colorado Capitol Press Association has met once so far this legislative cycle, committee member Joe Hanel of The Durango Herald confirmed Tuesday. And as in previous years, the CCPA’s standing committee convened behind closed doors.
The CCPA’s preference for secret meetings isn’t just rare for journalistic organizations, which normally press for governmental transparency. It’s the exception for official bodies advising public figures in Colorado’s executive and legislative branches, a recent State Bill investigation determined.
Hanel disclosed that at its first meeting for the 2010 session, which begins Jan. 13, the standing committee approved credentials for reporters at newspapers including the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Statesman and The Pueblo Chieftain.
Asked why the panel chooses to meet privately, Hanel turned and walked away without saying a word.
The standing committee — dominated by traditional journalists including newspaper, TV and radio reporters, — has been criticized by other journalists, including the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, for essentially preventing face-to-face floor coverage by so-called “new media” organizations, including State Bill Colorado.
The CCPA has said that it makes only recommendations. Nevertheless, its decisions are almost always accepted by the legislature’s highest leadership.
The five-member CCPA was created in late 2007 by then-Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald and then-House Speaker Andrew Romanoff to issue credentials to journalists with an eye toward ensuring that journalists weren’t lobbying or otherwise inappropriately influencing public policy. Current House Speaker Terrance Carroll and Senate President Brandon Shaffer, both Democrats, have so far left the credentialing panel in place.
Besides Hanel, the current members of the standing committee are Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel; Bente Birkeland of Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a consortium of public radio stations; Adam Schrager of KUSA-TV; and Eli Stokols of both KDVR-TV and KWGN-TV.
The standing committee, unlike similar organizations operating at the U.S. Congress, is self-appointing and doesn’t stand for elections.