- Associated Press - Friday, January 29, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The New York Press Club objected Friday to an advisory opinion from the state ethics commission that public relations professionals should file lobbying reports if they contact media seeking editorials to advance a client’s position.

Club President Steve Scott said the opinion undermines a basic tenet of journalism, endangering the ability to keep private the names of informed sources.

“Sources would, in essence, be ‘outing’ themselves, if required to identify journalists with whom they’ve had private conversations,” he said.

The commission moved to address those concerns by removing a reference to media consultants contacting reporters to push a client’s message before voting 10-3 for the opinion on Tuesday.

“By definition now it has limited and excluded conversations between a reporter seeking to gather information on a story they’re working on about a bill or a proposal that the lobbyist has been engaged in as opposed to, again, a lobbyist seeking an editorial,” said Commission Chairman Daniel Horwitz. “It does cut out, as far as I can see, conversations between a lobbyist and a reporter. It’s specifically focused on editorials.”

Media consultants would have to register and identify who’s paying them to advocate on state policy matters or legislation, but not have to name media members or outlets contacted, according to commission officials.

Scott said the Joint Commission on Public Ethics should reconsider its opinion and remove the part that infringes on rights to free speech and a free press. If it doesn’t, he said the press club is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to reverse it.

The lobbying opinion also applies to grassroots organizing by media consultants and their practice of introducing clients to public officials.

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