Monday, March 30, 2020

Social Distancing At FL Gov Presser Shuts Out Reporter

Mary Ellen Klas
A reporter for the state capital bureau operated jointly by two of Florida’s largest newspapers was denied access Saturday to a news conference by Gov. Ron DeSantis detailing the state’s latest efforts to contain one of the largest outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in the country, The Tampa Bay Times reports.

Mary Ellen Klas, a Herald staff writer who works in the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau, said she was refused entry into the Capitol in Tallahassee to attend a news briefing by the governor, lieutenant governor, director of emergency management and state surgeon general regarding COVID-19 testing, access to medicine and efforts to prevent New Yorkers from flying into the state.

The reason for her exclusion, she was told by a governor’s spokeswoman: She had earlier requested social distancing.

Days earlier, Klas asked that the governor’s staff help protect reporters by holding Zoom-style video conference press briefings so that questions could be asked without requiring reporters to gather in close proximity.

The top editors of the Herald, Times, el Nuevo Herald, Bradenton Herald, Palm Beach Post, Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun Sentinel made the same request of DeSantis’ office in a March 20 letter. DeSantis’ office did not respond, according to Miami Herald President & Publisher/Executive Editor Aminda Marqués González.

The governor’s office continues to hold briefings that run counter to the recommended 6-foot-rule that public health experts say is necessary for social distancing.

On Twitter, Klas said a reporter for the News Service of Florida was told that he would be shut out as well if he insisted that Klas be allowed to cover the press conference in person. She posted a video of the DeSantis spokeswoman, Meredith Beatrice, explain that Klas could view the press conference on a state-sponsored public affairs media service that live streams state government events.

“It’s available via Florida Channel. We’re providing the satellite coordinates,” Beatrice said, declining to address Klas’ question about who decided she could not attend. “I have nothing else to add.”

“I asked for social distancing. I didn’t ask to be excluded,” said Klas, who said she tried to attend Saturday’s briefing because recent efforts to submit questions in writing had been unsuccessful. “The problem with having this available on a satellite feed is there’s no interaction, and we’d already had several days where they weren’t answering [our] questions.”

Helen Aguirre Ferré, DeSantis’ chief spokeswoman, said in an email Saturday that a small group of reporters were invited to attend the briefing in an effort to respond to requests for social distancing. She said she alerted a different reporter of the Times/Herald bureau but did not explain why Klas was not allowed to attend. Klas was already at the Capitol entrance when Ferré called Lawrence Mower of the Times.

“Every endeavor is made to ensure the public continues to have full access to information as the safety and security of Florida residents is our greatest concern,” said Ferré, who’d previously defended DeSantis’ decision to continue holding news briefings at the Capitol, arguing that a majority of reporters wanted to attend in person.

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