It's official. Gov. Mike Huckabee is refusing to provide routine media services to the Arkansas Times. The newspaper has been stricken from the e-mail lists for routine news releases, public scheduling and other items widely disseminated to members of the public and the media.
Press spokeswoman Alice Stewart gave us this statement:
We don’t consider the Arkansas Times a news organization. By your own definition, you are a journal of politics and culture. As you said, there are hundreds of news outlets in the state and we don’t attempt to notify every one of them. The major news organizations are on our e-mail list and that’s the way it will continue.
She declined to answer all further questions -- when the decision was made, why it was made, by whom it was made. "That's the statement this office is offering," she said.
The Times is, of course, a news medium. We report news on this blog and in our weekly print edition on a regular basis. But definitions are largely irrelevant. The Freedom of Information Act is the public's law, not a press law. Rights abridged under the law for one are rights abridged for all.
We believe we are entitled to access to all press documents issued by the governor's office by virtue of the FOI law. A "working papers" exception cannot be claimed on information if it is otherwise being provided to others.
But this is of course primarily a First Amendment issue. The governor has decided to punish us for our opinions by withholding a publicly financed service. We don't think this practice can stand legal scrutiny and we intend to review our options in that regard.
Will other members of the press stand with us on this issue? Or will they fear retribution?