Missouri changes execution media policy after lawsuit
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri will now leave it up to news organizations to pick which reporters witness executions after a journalist was denied access and sued the state.
Changes to the state’s execution witness policy are part of a settlement that led U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey to dismiss the lawsuit Tuesday.
Previously, the Missouri Department of Corrections director chose which reporters were denied or granted access to executions. BuzzFeed News reporter Chris McDaniel sued in 2016 after he applied to serve as an execution witness in 2014 but never heard back.
The former St. Louis Radio reporter, who has written several articles critical of Missouri’s execution practices, was not approved to witness any of the 17 executions held since he applied, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. The organization filed the lawsuit on behalf of McDaniel.
Legal Director Tony Rothert in a Tuesday statement said the government should not be able to decide which reporters can attend executions based on officials’ feelings about their coverage.
“A free press is vital to ensuring that the government remains accountable to the people,” Rothert said. “Allowing the government to pick and choose which reporters have access to government functions is a vital threat to fair and unbiased reporting.”
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann declined to comment Tuesday.
The new policy allows The Associated Press, Missouri Broadcasters Association, Missouri Press Association and another media outlet to select reporters to watch executions. That takes away the director’s power to unilaterally deny access to certain reporters.