The Society of Professional Journalists issued a news release Thursday saying Senate Majority Leader Tommy's Norment's abrupt decision to remove news reporters from the Senate floor is an attempt to stymie coverage of government.
Norment's move came as a surprise to journalists and lawmakers Wednesday, the opening day of the session. All 21 Republicans in the Senate voted to adopt the rule, however, moving reporters to an upper gallery. There, one of them , Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, used binoculars Thursday.
Reporters in Missouri recently faced a similar move.
"Reporters are the eyes and ears of the American people. State legislatures across the country are public forums, and taxpayers – including reporters – have a right to observe and know what is happening when lawmakers gather to conduct business,” said Paul Fletcher, SPJ's national president, in the news release.
"It’s time for elected officials in this country to stop these ridiculous attempts to ignore the First Amendment and silence the press."
Norment has refused to explain why he made the change, which prompted buzz throughout Capitol corridors as the 2016 session opened.
The Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Virginia Press Association and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government also issued a statement saying Norment, of James City County, made a bad decision:
"The press serves as the public’s eyes and ears in General Assembly proceedings. The public isn’t allowed on the floor, where the action is happening. By banishing the press from the floor, it is harder to hear what is being said, and some of the members cannot be seen from the new vantage point. By being on the floor, reporters can get a better, fuller sense of what is happening by being present on the floor, not relocated to the gallery."
This story first appeared on PilotOnline.com