New Mexico lawmakers boot TV reporter from public meeting

A reporter for a New Mexico television station says she was kicked out of a public meeting held by state senators on Thursday after lawmakers expressed concern over how their deliberations would be covered by the media.

Rachel Knapp with Albuquerque CBS affiliate KRQE-TV (Channel 13) was attending a session of the state’s Senate Conservation Committee on Thursday to watch lawmakers and the public comment on a number of bills before the body.

At one point in the meeting, Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez addressed Knapp’s presence in the room, noting that the reporter and her photographer were “filming” and inquiring if KRQE had secured permission to record the meeting.

When asked about the situation, Knapp told the body she didn’t think she needed permission because it was a public meeting.

Another lawmaker, Sen. Pat Woods, said he also had an issue with KRQE recording the meeting because he was concerned about how the station would represent their deliberations in news broadcasts.  Woods said he was concerned members of the public would not be frank in their comments on the pending legislation out of concern that KRQE might record and edit them.

“I just prefer this not to be spliced and edited to be used against someone and have someone not be totally truthful in their comments in a bill because they’re worried how something might be splashed and cut in a newscast,” Woods said, adding that there were “adequate ways” the footage could be obtained without having KRQE record the session. (Sessions are live streamed over the Internet via cameras controlled by the committee.)

Knapp said signs posted outside the chamber did warn those in attendance they needed to get permission before taking a photograph or video, but the signs said the rule did not apply to members of the media. Despite this, Knapp said another lawmaker asked her and her cameraman to leave.

KRQE said Sen. Woods apologized after the meeting but defended the body’s enforcement of the rule.

New Mexico law allows members of the public to attend meetings, and the state’s Open Meetings Act (OMA) says attendees can’t be prevented from recording them. The OMA carves out a limited number of exceptions to the attendance and recording rule, but the meeting held on Thursday wasn’t covered by them.

KRQE described the lawmakers’ behavior as “bizarre” and affirmed its commitment to keeping the public informed about legislative matters.

KRQE, which also serves as Albuquerque’s Fox affiliate, is operated by Nexstar Media.