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State of Florida urged to reconsider media restriction measure

(RSF/IFEX) - 14 June 2011 - Reporters Without Borders called today on Florida Governor Rick Scott to urgently withdraw or amend a measure curbing access to details of murders which it said "seriously undermined" the media's ability to investigate and the public's right to know the truth about such crimes. It said it was a violation of the national constitution, which guarantees the right to inform and to be informed.

The organization said the new law, enacted on 2 June 2011 and banning the release of photos, videos or recordings connected with a murder, had ruined recent efforts to improve tense relations between the media and the governor's office and provide greater media access.

Barbara A. Petersen, President of the First Amendment Foundation (FAF), which criticized the legislation, told Reporters Without Borders: "We need to be able to see what law enforcement is doing through videos of arrests or emergency call transcripts, especially if someone is killed."

In February, Reporters Without Borders spoke with Florida journalists and freedom of information advocates, many of whom said Scott's media policies were "problematic." Some noted encouraging improvements but said they were not enough.

David Royse, executive editor of the News Service of Florida, called the access issue "contentious" but said there had been improvements. While attempts to retrieve public records were still "slow and expensive," Scott's administration was no longer relying on press pools and Scott himself had given sit-down interviews.

Mary Ellen Klas, Tallahassee bureau chief of the Miami Herald, also said access had improved but was "still a tight bottleneck, with his administration controlling the information and telling agency heads not to talk to the media."

Michael Bender, political reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, said there had been "some progress, but not a significant improvement from early on in his administration."

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