The Indiana Citizen

The Crossroads of Civic Engagement

Am I registered to vote?

Being an Indiana Citizen starts with registering to vote. Register here or confirm registration.

Rokita press conference dispute raises questions about journalist access

Political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz (above) says he was turned away from a press conference held by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita on Thursday. 

Shabazz, editor and publisher of Indy Politics and an attorney, received an invitation to the press conference on robocalls and sent back his RSVP in time, according to his column yesterday, which raises questions about fair press access. 

The Indiana Attorney General’s office did not return an email for comment on Friday.  

Shabazz and Rokita had a civil relationship up until a Republican primary debate during Rokita’s unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in 2018, according to Shabazz’s column. When it was announced that Shabazz would be leading the discussion, Rokita at first backed out. He claimed that he did not want to participate if Shabazz was the one leading the debate, calling him biased. 

Shabazz said that he was turned away from the press conference Thursday by Rokita’s press secretary for not being “credentialed media,” despite holding a press badge issued by the Indiana Department of Administration. 

State and local governments cannot limit or deny public or media access to public forums, according to the Reporter’s Committee’s First Amendment Handbook. Nonetheless, a 2013 study found “that one out of every five respondents who applied for a credential was denied by a credentialing organization at least once. Moreover, certain categories of applicants are more likely to be denied than others,” including freelance journalists.

Shabazz was denied entry even though he had the credential, he said: “If I wasn’t credentialed media, why did I get a news advisory and a news release? And why would Rokita’s office subscribe to my Cheat Sheet

if I didn’t have some credentials?” 

Brandon Pope, a broadcast journalist and Ball State University alum who now serves as president of the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, said journalists are being attacked right now, which can be attributed to President Donald Trump and those who subscribe to the same negative beliefs about the press. 

He said it is important that government officials understand that freedom of the press is crucial to a healthy society and a First Amendment right.

“It’s important that we maintain access, especially to someone who already has a credential,” he said. “It makes no sense to bar access to someone that already has a credential.” 

Pope also said that without Black journalists in the room, there cannot be full coverage. Shabazz is Black. 

“If you don’t have any Black reporters or Black journalists covering, you’re doing the Black people in that state and in that area a disservice,” he said. “Our voices do matter.” 

Haley Pritchett is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students