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Senate restricts media access in Bundgaard hearings

Members of the media crowd around Sen. Scott Bundgaard's attorney Mark Goldman after a Senate Ethics Committee hearing regarding the conduct of Bundgaard at the Capitol Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Senate yesterday placed new restrictions on reporters who plan to cover the ethics inquiry involving Sen. Scott Bundgaard.

One of the most restrictive rules put in place by the upper chamber includes a ban on interviews with lawmakers and attorneys inside the hearing room once the Ethics Committee has adjourned.

Another provision prohibits interviews at the dais and staff tables.

Mike Philipsen, the Senate majority spokesman, said the rules are meant to maintain order. Philipsen and the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms came up with the guidelines.

They have concerns over holding “mini” news conferences and media crews getting in “the way of just the footpath,” Philipsen said

“Obviously, I would hope you realize that it’s still an open hearing and cameras are still (allowed) here and everyone is going to get what they need,” Philipsen said, adding there’s nothing “nefarious” about the guidelines.

Many of the guidelines don’t depart too much from the norm, such as limiting cameras to the east and west sides of the hearing room to ensure a clear view of committee members and witnesses.

That’s similarly the case for covering day-to-day sessions on the Senate floor.

But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, regarded the new guidelines as “another attempt to keep media away from covering an ugly story involving the majority.”

“This is another black eye to the majority,” he said. “They’re trying to make it difficult for media to actually cover the truth.”

Gallardo, who filed the ethics complaint against Bundgaard, subsequently asked Senate President Russell Pearce to rescind the new guidelines, lamenting in a letter that the Senate continues to put “barriers in front of the media members who are covering the people’s business at the Legislature.”

Pearce today flatly rejected insinuations that the new guidelines for reporters are meant to hinder them from doing their job. He said the guidelines are about managing security and logistics.

“These are hardly ‘barriers to media professionals’,” Pearce said. “We take transparency at the Senate very seriously, and these guidelines are consistent with (our) goals.”

This is not the first time that the Senate came up with changes to how reporters cover the chamber.

Earlier this year, the Senate decided that reporters may only approach lawmakers on the floor if invited by those members – even when the Senate is not in session.

That policy change also came on the heels of an earlier decision by Pearce to limit press conferences inside the Senate building.

That directive put an end to media briefings with the public in attendance. Pearce defended this policy as a way to make the Senate building more secure and to help ensure members’ safety.

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