As informed citizens, we turn on our televisions and radios, and open our newspapers and expect coverage of the news of the day to be there.
This is for a good reason. Our Constitution’s First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press leads us as Americans to expect the media to have access to the news, especially when the people, places and events involved are tax-supported or are of public interest.
A prime example is the final debate between the two major-party candidates for president of the United States Oct. 13 at Arizona State University’s Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium.
Public access to news should not depend on whether the news media pay a fee to be able to provide that coverage. But ASU has made it so, publishing a schedule of fees that local and network broadcast media must pay in order to provide us coverage of the presidential debate.
The fees do not reflect reasonable compensation broadcasters are quite willing to provide the university for using its electrical power or other specific costs of accommodating their presence on campus to cover the debate. They reflect what amounts to admission to a public university to cover what is unquestionably the year’s biggest scheduled Valley event.
According to media attorney Dan Barr, the fees include $5,000 for a network to park a satellite truck and $4,000 for a local station to do so, and $1,800 for a reporter to do a live “stand-up” report in front of the auditorium.
There are likely many who believe TV journalists should not complain about these issues since their superiors may well be able to afford such fees. But that isn’t the issue. Whether they are charged to a well-heeled national network or a small-market station that couldn’t afford it, any arbitrary fees are an unconstitutional limit on the access of a free press to a crucial public event — an access that’s worth defending.
Barr sent a letter Friday on behalf of two Valley stations demanding that ASU tear up its fee schedule. The university and broadcast media should work out precise prices for the actual services they will use. ASU’s current schedule does not just amount to an admission fee for the media — it amounts to one for any citizen without the connections to get one of the 3,000 tickets for seats inside the auditorium.