MEDIA MELEE: ETHNIC PRESS FIGHTS FOR ACCESS TO RNC

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Gaining access to the Republican National Convention has become a tortuous struggle for a slew of local ethnic publications, even though there are 15,000 media credentials available for domestic and international media.

While the ethnic press had little trouble accessing the Democratic Convention, at least 10 publications, including major Haitian, Bangladeshi, Polish and Muslim newspapers, all had their applications for press credentials turned down by the Republican National Committee. Only under pressure from the New York chapter of the Independent Press Association, an umbrella organization for local ethnic publications (where this reporter was once a fellow), did the Republicans eventually reconsider.

The IPA first realized there was a widespread problem last week. The organization’s election coverage coordinator, Karen Juanita Carrillo, had been calling IPA members to make sure they applied for credentials for both conventions on time and to help iron out any problems. But she began to hear complaints from members saying their publications had been denied access to the RNC.

The guidelines posted on the RNC’s web site require each applicant to send in clips, a letter from his or her editor and a sample publication, but include no specific criteria regarding circulation size or readership. “There is no one set rule on when you get it or you don’t,” said Judy Pino, a spokesperson for the RNC.

Macollvie Jean-Francois, a reporter from the Haitian Times, said her rejection letter was just two lines long, and didn’t explain why her request had been denied. Her calls to the RNC officer in charge of credentials went unanswered. “I’m wondering if they would treat reporters from the L.A. Times or the New York Times the same way. I doubt that very highly,” said Jean-Francois.

When asked why these publications were denied, Pino said they may have missed the application deadline. Several of the journalists involved say that wasn’t the case. Tomasz Deptula, chief editor of the Polish Daily News, said the RNC asked his reporters for additional information after they first applied, but then later told them they had missed the deadline. “If we didn’t meet the deadline, why did they ask for additional information?” he asked. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Pino suggested this problem is not specific to the Republican convention. “You should also look at the other convention,” she said. “I think everybody faces this problem.” But IPA’s Carrillo said she hasn’t heard of any members being denied credentials for the Democratic National Convention in Boston, and noted that she herself was able to attend as a freelance journalist.

Ultimately, after re-evaluating their cases, the RNC decided to issue credentials to seven IPA members and was still talking with the others at press time. “When the dust settled, we found that some organizations needed fewer than they had originally requested, which left us a bank of credentials,” said Rory Smith, another convention spokesperson. “We were very pleased to award some of the denied applicants a credential.”

Carillo said it was only after she made phone calls and threatened to put out a press release that the RNC changed its tune. “I think they suspected the ethnic media doesn’t matter,” said Carrillo. “Then they are a little shocked to find out that we do.”