NEW YORK—In response to reports that the Iowa House of Representatives has denied press credentials for respected political journalist and blogger Laura Belin, PEN America issued the following statement and has sent a letter to the Speaker of the House expressing concern and asking for clarity as to the reason behind the denial.

Belin, a writer and blogger who has covered political news at the Iowa state legislature since 2007, applied for and was reportedly denied a formal press credential from the House of Representatives that would have allowed her to cover the 2019 legislative session. The press credential provides deeper access to lawmaker briefings throughout the session as well as a workspace to focus on her widely-respected blog, “The Bleeding Heartland.” Since denying Belin’s request in January, 2019, the Iowa House of Representatives has stated that “press credentials are not issued to members of the public.” Later in February, the Iowa House gave another explanation, citing that it had new guidelines based on the U.S. congressional policy on press galleries. The Iowa House has failed to cite any House rules to support its decision regarding Belin specifically.

“This lack of clarity has caused some to speculate that Belin’s press credentials were denied due to the liberal-leaning nature of her blog,” the letter explains. “If the Iowa House has engaged in viewpoint discrimination by denying Belin a press credential due to the political slant of her writing, this would represent a disappointing repression of political speech.”

“The denial of press credentials for a reporter who has covered the Iowa State House for years should raise concerns across the political spectrum,” said Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs. “Belin’s position as a blogger, rather than a traditional reporter, should not discredit the professionalism of her work, nor should it prevent her from receiving press credentials. As local news outlets strive to stay afloat, and national outlets struggle to maintain a presence in many cities around the country, the work of local, independent reporters like Belin plays an ever more critical role in ensuring transparency and holding politicians to account.  We are confident that the Iowa House of Representatives believes similarly in the importance of a free press and an informed electorate, and so we hope they will reconsider this decision.”   

You can see a full copy of the letter here.

PEN America defends press freedom in the U.S. and around the world, including by filing a lawsuit, PEN America v. Trump, in which we seek relief to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for news 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