NEW YORK—The Iowa House’s decision to deny press credentials to influential political blogger Laura Belin is a disturbing limitation on her First Amendment rights, PEN America said in a statement today.

Laura Belin, a writer and blogger who has covered political news at the Iowa state legislature since 2007, recently applied for and was reportedly denied a formal press credential that would have allowed her to cover the 2019 legislative session. The press credential would have provided deeper access to lawmaker briefings throughout the session as well as a workspace to focus on her blog, “The Bleeding Heartland,” which receives more than 1,500 unique daily visitors when the legislature is in session. Belin has been touted as “one of the best political reporters in Iowa” by news executive Michael Gartner. In denying Belin’s application, he Iowa House stated that “press credentials are not issued to members of the public.” Belin told the Associated Press that other non-traditional news outlets have been issued press credentials in the past and suggested that the reason for the denial may be the liberal-leaning nature of her blog. Belin has attempted to appeal the House’s decision and is considering legal action.

“There is little obvious reason why the Iowa House might have denied Belin’s press credential application, and it would be deeply concerning if their decision was motivated by wanting to restrict the political viewpoints espoused in her blog,” said Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “The general lack of transparency around the House’s process for approving press credentials creates space for unfounded restrictions of journalist access. We caution the Iowa House that any content-based limitations on journalists’ ability to report on government business would be an affront to press freedoms.”

In October 2018, PEN America filed a lawsuit, PEN America v. Trump, that seeks to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes. 

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org