RTNDA protests Ashcroft's McVeigh decision

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The Radio-Television News Directors Association protested a policy announced
Thursday by Attorney General John Ashcroft that would limit access --
particularly by electronic media -- to convicted killer Timothy McVeigh prior to
his execution, which is scheduled for next month.

At a press conference Thursday morning, Ashcroft said reporters would not be
allowed to hold extended interviews with McVeigh and interviews could neither be
videotaped nor recorded.

An emotional Ashcroft said, 'I want to restrict a mass-murderer's access to a
public podium. As attorney general, I don't want anyone to be able to purchase
access to the podium of America with the blood of 168 innocent victims. Please
do not help him inject more poison into our culture. He's caused enough
senseless damage.''

But in a letter to the attorney general, RTNDA president Barbara Cochran
said, 'Based on your statements today, it would appear that you would have the
government assume the role of news evaluator, censor and editor -- a role that
government necessarily has eschewed. Your actions -- which place severe
limitations on how a particular individual may comment to reporters and, thus,
the public -- present complex problems and raise significant constitutional
concerns. Instead of serving the public interest, constraints on access to Mr.
McVeigh will serve merely as a form of government censorship and a violation of
our democratic principles of free speech and free press.

She added, 'Video is our society's common language. Eliminating television
interviews with Mr. McVeigh will significantly affect the content of the
information conveyed about his final days and upcoming execution, resulting in
impermissible content-based discrimination.'

She continued, 'The federal government has no appropriate role in determining
who or what has access to the 'public podium' that is our nation's free press.
For you to attempt to assume such a role by curtailing access to and news
coverage of Mr. McVeigh rocks the very foundation of our democratic society and
represses the exercise of a fundamental freedom.'

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