Gov. Pete Ricketts pushed back Wednesday on criticism of his new media credentialing policy that has been slammed as unconstitutional and a potential pretext to exclude media outlets that don't share his conservative political views.
Groups such as Media of Nebraska, which includes the Lincoln Journal Star, the Washington-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the ACLU of Nebraska have called on the governor to revise the new policy, saying it asks questions that bear no relationship to the stated reasons for credentialing: "operational limits” and “security reasons.”
After a news conference to proclaim May as "Beef Month," Ricketts said the application form for credentials to cover his Capitol news briefings asks only "neutral" questions. He said that concerns it would be used to exclude media that he doesn't favor are "unfounded."
"Folks, at the end of the day it's only a dozen questions. It probably takes less than 10 minutes to fill out. It's not that big of a deal," the governor said.
Ricketts did not have a written press credentialing process until recently, after the Omaha World-Herald wrote about an Omaha community news website that had been denied access to the governor's media briefings and barred from asking questions of Ricketts.
The stated reason was that the nonprofit news site, NOISE Omaha, was an "advocacy group" that was funded by "liberal donors." The donors include the Sherwood Foundation, which was founded by philanthropist Susie Buffett; the Omaha Community Foundation; and a foundation originally established by the family of the World-Herald's founder, Gilbert Hitchcock.
Shortly after the story about NOISE Omaha was published, and shortly after the rejection was criticized, Ricketts announced a new policy — that media must apply for credentials to cover the governor's press briefings. The application asks a variety of questions, including how the media organization is financed, if there is a "clear distinction" between the editorial and news divisions, if the applicant resists "pressures" from interest groups, and whether the outlet belongs to any trade groups.
Those kinds of questions, according to critics, go beyond the "viewpoint neutral" criteria for media access that have been upheld in federal courts. Media of Nebraska, which represents the state's newspapers and broadcast media, urged its members to not apply for credentials due to its concerns about restricting freedom of the press to cover government and its officials.
Ricketts, on Wednesday, said that "a dialogue" was continuing with Media of Nebraska about the new credentialing process.
A showdown over the issue had been anticipated on Wednesday morning at a 10 a.m. news conference at the Capitol. But early Wednesday morning, the news conference was canceled in place of a different event at a Lincoln steakhouse.