Thursday, April 30, 2009

M. Variety Banned by JGPO

Variety Banned by JGPO
Wednesday, 29 April 2009 01:59
by Jennifer Naylor Gesick
Marianas Variety News Staff

THE Joint Guam Project Office yesterday barred the entry of the Marianas Variety staff to all three venues hosting the Guam Industry Forum III. Two Variety reporters and a staff photographer were told by officials at the check-in tables at the Sheraton, Hilton and Marriot hotels that the Variety has been “banned” from attending the event.

Onsite industry forum personnel notified the reporting staff that the ban was on a “federal level” and was issued as a “government order” from U.S. Marine Corp Capt. Neil Ruggiero with the Joint Guam Project Office. JGPO is the liaison between Guam and the military regarding the military buildup.

The ban was in effect in all venues, as confirmed by Variety reporters in the field. Press passes were printed for every media company on island, except for the Variety.

When reached for comment yesterday afternoon, Ruggiero refused to call the restriction a “ban,” and claimed that the forum personnel were subcontracted and were not speaking directly for JGPO.

Registration fee
Ruggiero argued that Variety could have attended the event as a business if the publishers had registered with the forum.

“Marianas Variety was given the same opportunity as anyone else, they just chose not to be paying registrants, [Pacific Daily News] chose to pay and they were allowed access,” he said.

“I had to pay to work, everybody has to pay to be there,” Ruggiero added.

However, any media covering the event was allowed in free.

In response to claims of a violation of the freedom of the press in restricting access to the forum, Ruggiero responded that “the press who only stays one session is allowed in free.” That accommodation was not extended to the Variety.

Ruggiero also said that a Variety columnist was given access to represent the paper.

Variety columnist Jayne Flores confirmed that she was given a pass, but Ruggiero later said, “I told her she could not come as Marianas Variety or write any news for them.”

Firing range
The “ban” stemmed from a story titled “DoD’s plan to build off-base ranges confirmed,” published in the Jan. 15 issue of the Variety, in which the JGPO was reported to have confirmed speculations on the Department of Defense’s plan to build firing ranges on Route 15 in Yigo, commonly known as “the back road to Andersen.”

“These are small arms ranges that are not new to Guam; rifle and pistol ranges as well as machine gun ranges that are direct fire weapons and primarily used for the annual qualifications of Marines,” the Variety quoted a written article submitted by Ruggiero on behalf of the author Lt. Col. Rudy Kube, JGPO’s operations director.

Prior to publication of the story, the Variety editor informed Ruggiero that Kube’s piece would be rewritten as a staff-story. He did not object to the request, but protested when the article was published.

Ruggiero has since informed the paper’s staff that Variety would no longer have any access to any JGPO officials.

Out of context
“Your paper took an editorial out of context. In doing so your readers did not get the full story,” Ruggiero said. “We chose to no longer deal with your paper.”

Ruggiero denied sending a response to the editors, which is commonly done to properly address such issues. “No, I did not write a rebuttal letter. I wanted Amier [Younis] (Variety operations manager) to reprint the original letter as a whole,” he said.

Ruggiero could not grant Variety’s request for access as of press time. “I will have to talk to my boss about that.”

Expressing her opinion on the media ban, Sen. Judy Guthertz, in a letter promptly written yesterday to JGPO director Maj. Gen. David Bice, USMC (Ret.), stressed the importance of granting all media companies equal treatment.

She wrote, “I am writing to express my disappointment that representatives of the federal government have reportedly prohibited a member of Guam’s media, specifically the Marianas Variety, from covering the Guam Industry Forum.

“I understand that JGPO may have a problem or problems with the content of one or more of the Variety’s news stories or editorials. Whatever the case may be, I urge you to strive to work out those problems with the editors and publisher, and not prevent members of the media to cover an important part of what will likely be our island’s more important story this year,” she told Bice.

The letter concluded: “Multiple media voices can be of great value to a community, especially one as small as Guam, where coverage from different sources can often help to provide a variety of points of view.”

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