IRC puts off decision on tracking media interaction
Published: August 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm
The state’s redistricting commission today moved closer to making a decision about whether it will continue to require detailed tracking of all contact between its mapping firm and any member of the media.
But the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission postponed a vote so it can get more input from its attorneys, media outlets and bloggers.
The issue split the five-person commission once again along party lines, with the group’s two Democrats opposing such tracking of media contact, and the group’s two Republicans supporting it.
The commission’s independent chairwoman did not come down one way or the other, but indicated that she needs to hear more from the group’s attorneys before making a decision.
The issue first came up last week, when the commissioners voted to require tracking of all contact between the group’s mapping firm, Strategic Telemetry, and anyone outside the commission.
That decision was made, according to Scott Freeman, one of the group’s two Republican commissioners, to “allay some public concerns” about the firm’s historic ties to Democratic campaigns and causes, and err on the side of transparency.
During the commission’s meeting, the group’s two Republicans said they were skeptical about allowing members of the media and bloggers to be exempt from the tracking measures adopted last week. They said that scenario could be exploited by anyone who decides to launch a blog and then claim they’re exempt from complying with the rules.
“It’s a loophole you could drive a Mack truck through,” Freeman said.
Richard Stertz, the other Republican commissioner, echoed Freeman’s apprehension, and said he would oppose such an exemption.
The commission’s two Democrats framed the issue as one of First Amendment protection, saying that the requirement to track all interaction with the media stifles the right of a free press.
José Herrera and Linda McNulty said they felt members of the media should be able to talk with the mapping consultant at any time for any reason, without the fear of having their conversations logged and made public.
Joe Kanefield, one of the IRC’s two attorneys, told the commissioners he had looked into the question of a First Amendment violation, and that while he saw no reason such a measure would cause problems, he couldn’t guarantee that someone couldn’t level a legal complaint.
The commissioners ultimately decided to put the question to the media, asking journalists and bloggers to let the commission know how they would feel about such a requirement. The commission will take up the issue again at a future meeting.