The Indiana Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is demanding an apology from Attorney General Todd Rokita (above) to journalist Abdul-Hakim Shabazz after excluding him from a news conference.
Shabazz was denied access to Rokita’s press conference on robocalls on Thursday after receiving an invitation to the event and sending his RSVP. Shabazz said he was told that he was not credentialed media, adding that in his 30-year journalism career covering politics, this is the first time he has ever been told his Indiana Department of Administration access badge was not enough.
The Indiana SPJ said in their letter Friday that the organization found Rokita’s decision to deny access to Shabazz reckless and unconstitutional. The attorney general’s office did not respond to questions about Shabazz Friday or Monday.
“These actions reflect a cavalier and indifferent regard for not only the First Amendment, but the Indiana state laws which you are sworn to uphold,” the letter said. “We find these actions to be a threat to press freedom, and to our very democracy.”
Shabazz said that he believes he was turned away due to Rokita’s personal feelings about him.
“Why the attorney general would do that makes no sense to me, particularly because of the legal consequences for locking out the media from your news conference,” he said.
Michael Puente, board president of the Indiana Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists said that elected officials picking and choosing who gets to cover their press conference does not serve the public, and he thinks this is happening more.
“They should be upholding the laws of the Constitution of the United States, the state of Indiana, and calling for freedom of the press,” he said. “You can’t deny access.”
Shabazz said that he was especially alarmed that Rokita would limit First Amendment freedoms after his attempts to pass the Parents Bill of Rights Act, which gives parents the power to question school officials publicly.
“I just think it’s very hypocritical for an elected official, who by the way took an oath to uphold the Constitution, which includes the First Amendment, and has been yelling and screaming about school boards, to go around and do the exact same thing that he’s accusing other people of doing,” he said.
Shabazz has yet to receive a response from Rokita after sending an email on Friday asking for clarification on how he defines credentialed media.
“We demand an apology for Mr. Shabazz and for his credentials to once again be recognized by your office, as they have been by countless other elected and appointed officials throughout his 30-year career,” the Indiana SPJ said in their letter.
Haley Pritchett is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.