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Journalist Denied Access to Florida Governor’s Coronavirus Briefing

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listens during a news conference at a drive-through coronavirus testing site in front of Hard Rock Stadium, Monday, March 30, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn't want the people on the Holland America's…

A journalist said she was prevented from attending the Florida governor’s coronavirus news conference Saturday because she requested social distancing to protect reporters.

Mary Ellen Klas, a journalist at the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times, posted a video on Twitter of state spokesperson Meredith Beatrice saying that she could instead watch Governor Ron DeSantis’ news conference on a media service that livestreams state government events.

“It’s available via Florida Channel,” Beatrice said. “We’re providing the satellite coordinates.” In the video, Beatrice declined to respond when Klas asked who made the decision to bar her from the event.

After posting the video, Klas, the Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau chief, said the state refused her access to the state capitol because she previously requested social distancing at the briefings.

Days before her request, Klas asked the governor’s office to help protect reporters by holding online video conferences that allow reporters to ask questions remotely.

Klas said she had asked for social distancing at the news conference and to not be excluded after failing to get answers to questions submitted in writing during other briefings.

“The problem with having this available on a satellite feed is there’s no interaction, and we’d already had several days where they weren’t answering [our] questions,” Klas said in an interview with the Miami Herald.

Editors from at least seven Florida-based newspapers submitted the same request for social distancing to the governor’s office in a March 20 letter. Miami Herald President and Executive Editor Aminda Marques Gonzalez said the governor’s office did not respond.

DeSantis’ communications office told VOA that the governor said all journalists were welcome to attend the governor’s press briefing today.

DeSantis’ spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre told VOA via email that because of COVID-19 some briefings were held with a smaller pool of reporters chosen on a rotational basis.

“Although some requested a single pool reporter, much of the Tallahassee press corps expressed strong disagreement including TV, print and digital reporters,” she said.

Ferre said that starting Tuesday, the governor would hold briefings in a larger venue so all media can attend.

The spokesperson declined to respond to VOA’s questions about Klas.

The decision not to allow Klas to attend Saturday’s news conference was criticized by the Herald/Times and some state legislators, who warned that the governor’s office appeared to be limiting access to information during a crisis.