The Radio Television Digital News Association and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force are calling on Vice President Mike Pence and his staff to allow greater access to local journalists when visiting disaster areas.
On Tuesday, March 19, Pence was in the Omaha region to survey parts of Nebraska and southwestern Iowa impacted by a devastating flood along the Missouri River basin. Prior to his arrival, the vice president’s advance team notified local television newsrooms that there would be no room for journalists to document a fly-over inspection of the damage.
Yet, as three helicopters prepared for take-off – containing Pence, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, Senators Ben Sasse (Nebraska) and Joni Ernst (Iowa), and Rep. Don Bacon (Nebraska) – local news organizations noticed that a photojournalist for KPTM-TV, Omaha, was allowed to board one of the choppers.
After the fly-over, representatives from other Omaha television stations asked the KPTM photojournalist for copies of the video. KPTM denied the requests, the photojournalist explaining that the video could only be shared with other television stations within KPTM’s parent company, with Fox News and with local Fox affiliates.
“This was a taxpayer-funded official flight by the vice president of the United States and other elected officials to an area ravaged by a natural disaster. Therefore, it was the very public affected by the flooding that suffered by not being able to see the damage from the vice president’s vantage point on their preferred local television stations,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director.
KPTM news director Jim Turpin, a former member of the RTDNA Board of Directors, says the station clarified with the vice president’s office whether the images from its photographer were to be designated as “pool” video, and, therefore, to be made available to other news outlets. The response was no, it was to be “exclusive.”
“Had we been appointed the pool camera we would have ensured everyone got the video,” Turpin said.
“Kudos to KPTM for getting a highly coveted exclusive. Presidents and vice presidents frequently make such arrangements with news organizations. In fact, during my years as a local broadcast journalist I and my stations’ audiences benefited from a number of such arrangements. However, in this case, there was an overwhelming need for as many people as possible to see what the vice president saw from above the disaster area,” Shelley said.
RTDNA’s Voice of the First Amendment Task Force defends against threats to the First Amendment and news media access and helps the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. RTDNA is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats against press freedom in America. Reach out to the task force by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org and contributing to support press freedom.