The Association of Alternative Newspapers, a trade group for 124 papers, including the Arkansas Times, with circulation of more than 7 million, has entered the discussion of Gov. Mike Huckabee’s decision to stop notifying the Arkansas Times of press conferences and to end other services routinely provided other Arkansas newspapers. The letter, from the president of AAN:
Dear Governor Huckabee:
We were dismayed to read your statement yesterday in response to the negative publicity your office has received since it purged Arkansas Times from the e-mail list used to disseminate public information to the media. The statement was littered with misinformation and was clearly intended to divert attention from the real issues raised by your administration’s wrongful decision to ostracize the Times, a member in good standing of our organization.
Contrary to your assertions, the journalists working at the Times are not seeking “special treatment”; they are not asking for “personal notice with every issuance of a press release or public schedule” or “every time (you) conduct interviews with members of the press”; and they are not requesting that you “call them whenever (you) happen to return a phone call from a reporter or invite members of the media to a briefing on a particular issue.”
They are simply asking to be treated the same way that your administration treats other news-gathering organizations that cover the capitol.
The Times — an award-winning weekly newspaper with the fourth largest circulation of all the newspapers in Arkansas — has regularly received e-mail alerts from the governor’s office. These same notifications are provided to other media outlets all over your great state. Your office arbitrarily took the Times off the list last week and has yet to provide a reasonable explanation for that decision.
It is clear from your derogatory comments about the Times and its editor that you disagree with what the paper has written about your administration. Despite your disagreements, however, as a public official you are legally forbidden from blackballing the paper based on its political content.
By coincidence, our annual convention this year will be held next month in Little Rock. We are hopeful that by the time we arrive you will have taken the high road and put the Arkansas Times back on your official e-mail list.