Another Official Bans Contact with Press

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(AP) The mayor of a small town in Southern Oregon has barred all elected officials and employees from discussing the city’s business with reporters.

Phoenix Mayor Vicki Bear said all media questions must be funneled through her office.

Bear said that the goal was to have a single contact person for the media, and that as mayor, she seemed the most likely candidate.

But one councilor told The Ashland Daily Tidings that the decision was not put up for a vote or discussed in a public meeting.

A reporter for the Daily Tidings who tried to keep a pre-scheduled meeting with a Phoenix city planner received an e-mail from Bear, reading, “When I said that there is a contact person for media that is exactly what I mean. That doesn’t mean that you turn around and contact the city’s planning dept.”

Jim Naureckas, an editor with Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a national media watchdog group, said in his opinion, the mayor’s idea was not in the best interest of the residents of Phoenix.

“It creates the illusion that there is only one point of view,” Naureckas said. “The public has a right to get a variety of viewpoints from their government. If there are a variety of people discussing the issues, it is more likely the public will get a better idea of what is going on.”

Naureckas said such a directive might make it difficult for a whistleblower to step forward and alert the public to any government corruption, and the order might infringe on the free speech rights of city employees.

In Baltimore, Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich last fall last fall barred state employees from talking to two journalists at The (Baltimore) Sun, saying the two were not objectively covering his administration.

The newspaper sued in December, saying the order violated the journalists’ First Amendment rights.

But a federal judge in February ruled that Ehrlich could freeze out the two reporters, saying the paper wrongly asserted a greater right to access to government officials than private citizens have.

And in Youngstown, Ohio, last week, the twice-monthly Business Journal sued to overturn Mayor George McKelvey’s month-old ban on city employees talking to the paper.

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