The Alameda County District Attorney's Office on Saturday reversed course after excluding some journalists from a media briefing this week.
The decision by DA Pamela Price came after her office's exclusionary policy was roundly criticized by First Amendment advocates as being unconstitutional and inappropriate.
The controversy stems from a news conference Wednesday in which Price's office barred Berkeley Scanner founder Emilie Raguso, citing a requirement for media members to have an official press credential "issued by a bonified national news network, local news affiliate, or a long-standing independent news journal."
Raguso, an experienced local journalist, did present official credentials but was nevertheless turned away. The District Attorney's Office claimed that the criteria were part of policies that were "long-standing and predate the election of District Attorney Pamela Price."
On Saturday, the District Attorney's Office released a statement changing its reasoning for not allowing Raguso in, saying a media list had been "modified and reduced to a limited number of news outlets" during a transition of Price's communications staff over the summer.
Bay City News was among the outlets removed from the list as well.
"Miss Raguso, among others, including the Bay City News Service, was not included in the updated media list, an oversight now being corrected," the District Attorney's Office said in its statement.
After Price's office's initial decision this week not to admit Raguso to the briefing, groups including the First Amendment Coalition, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists sent letters to the District Attorney's Office, saying its policy "violates the First Amendment because it unconstitutionally discriminates against segments of the press and interferes with editorial discretion."
Following the uproar over the decision to exclude Raguso, Bay City News inquired why it was not receiving emails about upcoming news conferences despite its Datebook calendar being used for decades by most media outlets in the Bay Area to help plan coverage of such events.
A spokesperson for the District Attorney's Office said Friday the office had an incorrect—and nonexistent—Bay City News email address on their list for such events, though the statement Saturday then clarified that Bay City News had been removed from the list.
Raguso said in a statement Saturday, "I'm glad this issue was corrected because the DA's prior position was clearly indefensible. The Berkeley Scanner will continue reporting on this issue and pushing to ensure that other members of the media have fair and equal access to our elected district attorney."
Price, who is facing an effort to recall her from office by critics who say she is too soft on crime in her decisions on prosecuting cases, in her office's statement Saturday cited her "long and distinguished career that includes defending the First Amendment ... along with a proven track record of being committed to transparency."
The statement ended, "Now, DA Price is taking the lead on an effort to work with renowned First Amendment and media ethics experts in developing clear and transparent media credentials guidelines that balance the need for public safety alongside accommodating today's journalists. This critical work is long overdue at the Alameda County District Attorney's office."
The letter earlier this week from First Amendment Coalition legal director David Loy ended, "Whatever your office's intent may have been, its actions suggest that reporters will be punished for critical coverage. The First Amendment does not tolerate such interference with a free press, intentional or otherwise."