Under new rules proposed by Governor Martin O’Malley’s office, reporters covering the 2014 General Assembly session will need to undergo a criminal background check in order to get credentialed.
As first reported by Bryan Sears of the Daily Record, even reporters who currently hold a credential will need to submit to the background check. In October, state officials considered changes to the current credentialing process going so far as to restrict credentials to only those reporters who worked out of the state house year round. The changes were needed, according to the state, to tighten security at the state house grounds in Annapolis.
The Governor's press office approves press credentials.
Sears reported that Jack Murphy, Executive Director of the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, called the new credentialing policy, “reasonable and workable.”
The new policy did not specifically exclude bloggers or other new media as some were worried that the regulations proposed in October were designed to allow the state to determine who is a journalist. Sears mentioned the story of attorney/blogger Jay Liner, who sued the state, after O’Malley’s press office denied him a press credential. The state eventually credentialed Line.
Even though bloggers are not specifically excluded, the criminal background check does present a chilling effect. How comfortable would a blogger feel writing a story critical of the O’Malley administration—or subsequent administrations—knowing the administration has possession of sensitive information?
Bloggers need only to look at how the O'Malley administration uses government documents to punish its enemies and protect itself.
The same month the O'Malley administration promulgated its new credentialing proposal, it released of Maryland State Police documents related to Attorney General Doug Gansler’s security detail. The day before Gansler announced his running mate, the Washington Post published a story using Maryland State Police documents obtained through a public records request. That the Post obtained the documents is highly curious given normally disclosure-averse O’Malley administration.
Gansler is the chief Democratic primary rival to O’Malley’s handpicked successor, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown.
What is to stop the O’Malley administration from releasing embarrassing information about a blogger or reporter obtained through a background check?
It's been a bad few weeks for the O'Malley-Brown administration and the nascent O'Malley 2016 presidential campaign. Both Brown and O'Malley have been on the hot seat over the botched roll out of Maryland's Obamacare exchange. Brown has been evasive and hostile to reporters asking for answers about the exchange's problems.
The exchange rollout has also been embarrassing for O'Malley who is building his presidential run around an mythical record of results.
Given the bad news cycles and that the last legislative session before an election is less than a month away, it should be no surprise that the O'Malley administration issued this new credentialing policy.
This is a blatant attempt to control the media, and smack of an arrogance of power that has defined O'Malley's tenure as Governor.