Can Government Prohibit a Journalist's Access to Public Officials?

Franklin, Timothy A.
June 2005
Nieman Reports;Summer2005, Vol. 59 Issue 2, p24
This article describes a newspaper's ongoing legal case with Maryland's Governor Robert Ehrlich, Jr. about whether a government official has the right to prohibit a reporter's access to public officials, as a response to receiving unfavorable coverage. To listen to Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich, Jr. these days, it is clear that he believes "The Sun" is a modern-day assassin. So last November the first-term Republican governor fired back, using what he said was the only arrow available in the quiver of a public official--cutting off access to information. His administration issued a written directive banning all employees in Maryland's executive branch of government-- potentially tens of thousands of taxpayer-paid state workers--from talking to two Sun journalists. Why? He said the two journalists, then-State House Bureau Chief David Nitkin and metro columnist Michael Olesker, were failing to objectively report on his administration. Whatever his motivation, there is no doubt about this: Ehrlich's order raises a number of profound questions, with implications for journalists and, indeed, all citizens. In the next year or so, some answers likely will come from the federal appeals courts where this case is now being argued, and they could alter the relationship between government officials and the press.


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