Should the government be able to silence the media by claiming someone is not media enough? That is exactly what happened to me. My media badge was taken away and I was escorted out of the House Chamber media well. The reason I was given, “folks around there think Citizens For a New Louisiana is just a blog”.
No Cameras Allowed
On February 03, 2022 Clay Schexnayder’s detail, Stephen Louis, approached me in the balcony of the House Chamber. He told me that I could not use my camera. I explained that it was the same camera we already dealt with and was approved by Clarence “Smoke” Russ, the Sgt. at Arms. Mr. Louis told me that they were cracking down and that I may not use any camera with a zoom. He told me that I was only allowed to use my phone to take pictures. Louis claimed this was a privacy issue. This made me raise a brow as a private investigator. How is there a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public building at a public meeting?
Immediately I called my boss, Michael Lunsford, and let him know what was going on. Michael just happened to be finishing up a meeting in the area so he came to the capitol to see how we should proceed. It is difficult to be a journalist without a camera. I had applied for a media badge but was denied twice. Michael was awaiting a call from the communications office at that time, actually.
When Michael arrived he spoke with Smoke about the situation. After their discussion things seemed to be handled. I was told I could use my camera. We were advised to go ahead and get the media badge to avoid future issues. So, Michael spoke with the Legislative Communications Office. That evening my media badge was approved.
Media Badge Approved
On February 04, 2022 I went to pick up the approved media badge. They did not accept cash, so I had to get a check. The lady that I spoke with was kind and helpful. She met me in the House Chamber balcony since her office was about to close. She even brought the badge to me. Most days the house had nothing happening, so it was two weeks before I could use the badge. The guards at the capitol entrance even picked with me a few times because I had not used it yet.
On February 17, 2022 I decided to use the new credentials. I had never been to the media well before so I was a little intimidated when I walked up. A man I did not recognize asked me who I was with and if we were media. I explained that I am a journalist for Citizens For a New Louisiana and went to find a seat.
Smoke walked by and asked how I was doing. He is usually kind, so I thought nothing of it. He made a little small talk, looked at my badge, and told me to have a good one.
In Walks Clay Schexnayder
Clay Schexnayder walked in. Immediately, his security detail, Stephen Louis, walked over to me. He said something about my camera lens but I could not make it out. Then he asked me how I got in [the media area]. I explained that I had a badge. He asked me how I got it. This confused me. Of course I got it from the Legislative Communications Office upstairs from where all media badges are issued. I pointed out the lady who had given it to me, since she happened to be in the chamber at the time.
Mr. Louis said he needed to verify my badge because he had only seen me in the balcony before. I told him this was my first time in the media area, but that the badge had been approved weeks ago. He walked off and made a phone call.
Not Media Enough
I called Michael to let him know what was going on. When I got off the phone Smoke asked me to walk with him. I obliged thinking he wanted to discuss rules or something. Instead he told me he had to take my badge. I asked why. His only response was “folks around here think you’re just a blog.” At this point I had tears in my eyes.
Speaking of Censorship
Why does the Speaker get to decide who is media and who is not? I am well aware that Clay Schexnayder does not care for my coverage of him. Regardless, partisan politics should have no place in determining what or who is considered news media. We followed the process recommended to us by the Sgt. at Arms and received the appropriate credentials.
I have been hassled over my camera numerous times. Twice there was an issue with my lens. Once a little red power light was a problem. I’ve been very careful to follow all rules, and made adjustments where necessary. However, it’s my articles’ close coverage of Clay Schexnayder and his inner circle that appears to be the real issue. Louisiana citizens often complain about being censored on social media. Well, the same people who killed the two bills (SB196 and HB602) to address social media censorship are the same ones expanding censorship to include the people’s House Chamber.
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