Broadcasters Protest TV Blackout Of Iraq Negotiations

Broadcasters on Capitol Hill are protesting the move by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) to limit live television coverage of this afternoon's House-Senate conference committee hearing on the emergency war funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Steve Chaggaris, a producer with CBS News who is chairman of the Congressional Radio-TV Galleries’ Executive Committee of Correspondents, sent an e-mail to members Monday informing them the association will send a formal protest letter to Obey and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Obey’s office informed broadcast outfits Monday morning that they would be allowed to shoot an opening shot of members convening for the meeting, but camera crews will not be allowed the cover the rest of the negotiating session.

“As you know, this creates an uneven playing field as it provided certain segments of the press full access to these official proceedings while excluding others,” Chaggaris wrote.

“Even more importantly, this action clearly does not live up to House Speaker Pelosi's promise of a new era of transparency and openness in the Congress, particularly as it relates to the war in Iraq,” he continued.

The meeting Monday is the first official session of House and Senate negotiators who hope to marry the two chambers’ separate wartime spending bills. Most of the negotiations between the two chambers are carried out behind closed doors.

Obey's office did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for a comment.

House rules state: "Whenever a hearing or meeting conducted by a committee or subcommittee is open to the public, those proceedings shall be open to coverage by audio and visual means.  A committee or subcommittee chairman may not limit the number of television or still cameras to fewer than two representatives from each medium (except for legitimate space or safety considerations, in which case pool coverage shall be authorized)."