State Senate press office threatens to revoke press access in Fi - CBS46 News

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State Senate press office threatens to revoke press access in First Amendment battle

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ATLANTA (CBS46) -

This story isn't about us, but it begins with us.

Raw video shows CBS46 political reporter Giovanna Drpic walking casually in conversation with a state Senator, moments before stopping to conduct a routine interview.

Senator Burt Jones stood and spoke willingly, in what could only be called a mundane encounter.

But it resulted in a bizarre move by the Georgia Senate Press Office.

A letter was drafted--on Senate letterhead--claiming reporter Drpic had "ambushed" the Senator, and ignored "specific instructions" from from the press office on how to conduct interviews.

It claimed she was a repeat violator.

It ended with a threat to revoke credentials to cover news on the Senate floor.

The letter, which was addressed to Drpic, was sent to the entire press pool that covers the legislature. Either in a attempt to publicly discredit Drpic, or worse, intimidate every member of the media into following vague or unwritten instructions or risk losing access.
    
"The First Amendment is the most important part of the Constitution," says attorney Alan Begner.

"This reporter--all reporters--all TV stations, have a right to spontaneously interview people at the Capitol in a classic First Amendment forum whether they want to be or not."

The man who drafted the letter is Steve Tippins, Chief of Staff for the Senate Committee on Administrative Affairs.

In response to a letter from a CBS46 attorney challenging his threat, he replied, "your letter is the reason lawyer jokes exist." Clearly dismissing and making light of serious concerns over potential First Amendment violations.

Remember, this is the recipient of a $68,000 a year tax-payer funded salary.

Since the letter was sent to multiple media outlets, every major television station in Atlanta, along with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and the Georgia Association of Broadcasters, all interpreted its intent as a threat. And they have each demanded a retraction.

Tippins does not plan to, but sent us a written statement, saying:

"While substantial disagreement remains about the impetus of my letter from February 7 the senate shall continue to promote open and unfettered access to its members and to the legislative process, while nevertheless insisting that members of the media observe the standards of professionalism and the decorum that is expected of all other men and women who come to work here at the capitol."

CBS46 also sought comment from Senator Butch Miller, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, who oversees the office where Tippins works. After all, the letter and Tippins actions are a reflection of the Senator and his leadership, as well.

The Senator was unapologetic, saying in a statement:

"I have talked with all staff members who coordinate Senate media and reiterated my position that the Senate is and always will be transparent and open. No one’s rights have been violated, and nor will they be, although we will continue to ensure that Senate and Senate staff have the opportunity to conduct the people’s business without undue interference. I have no other comment and consider the matter settled."

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