COLUMBIA — The Associated Press will protest tonight's first-in-the-South Republican presidential debate by refusing to report or photograph the Greenville event because of the hosts' decision to limit access for photojournalists.
Likewise, Reuters will not send a photojournalist to the debate. That news service will send a text reporter for coverage, spokeswoman Erin Kurtz said.
The 90-minute debate is being hosted by the South Carolina Republican Party and Fox News. It will be broadcast on the network at 9 p.m.
The Post and Courier will provide media coverage of the debate, including with a live blog featuring Scott H. Huffmon, associate professor of political science at Winthrop University at postandcourier.com/gop_debate.
The lineup of tonight's 2012 hopefuls are: former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain; former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson; U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty; and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania.
Under debate rules, still photographers will be barred from entering the hall during the debate. The AP reported that Fox told the wire service and Reuters that it will allow only one still photographer into the debate at the start when candidates shake hands, and that the photographer must leave when the debate begins. It also wants the single photographer to distribute the photos to all other media organizations.
J. David Ake, the AP's assistant chief of bureau/photos, said that is inconsistent with past debates. Fox allowed greater access during the 2008 presidential cycle, Ake said. Both AP and Reuters photographers were permitted extensive access to the January 2008 GOP primary debate in Myrtle Beach, including multiple photographers from each agency allowed in during large parts of the debate, Ake said in an article by the wire service.
South Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Joel Sawyer said the rules for tonight's debate that put significant restrictions on still photography are consistent with past debates where the state GOP and Fox have partnered.
"We're not the ones changing the rules of engagement," Sawyer said. "We think it's kind of embarrassing for a news organization of that size to essentially try to bully us to change long-standing policy and ask for preferential treatment that no other media outlet is getting."
Sawyer said the AP's decision to not provide text coverage for the debate, based on the photography limitations, does not make sense.
"People deserve access to the news," Sawyer said. "It's hypocritical and it's unprofessional for the AP to behavior this way."
Fox referred the newspaper to the statement Cherie Grzech, Fox director of politics, gave the AP. She told the wire service that it would be allowed access before and after the debate if it was interested.