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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Texas Accused of Squashing Online News Site

AUSTIN (CN) - Top officials in Texas' House and Senate are playing favorites by allowing only select groups to set up servers that stream live, unedited video of the Legislature, an online news outlet claims in court.

AgendaWise sued Lt. Gov./Senate President David Dewhurst, Speaker of the House Joe Straus, Senate Committee on Administration Chairman Kevin Eltife, and Committee on House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren, in Travis County Court.

AgendaWise, a nonprofit, claims that state Sen. Eltife and Rep. Geren rejected its request for space in the server closet at the Texas Capitol.

It claims the defendants - all Republicans - violate the First Amendment by denying it access, and that they did so because AgendaWise reporters have "frequently criticized political stances held by defendants."

Geren "has expressed his dissatisfaction with the reporting of AgendaWise online, accusing AgendaWise Executive Director Daniel Greer of telling lies and criticizing former AgendaWise board member Michael Quinn Sullivan," the complaint states.

"(T)he Texas House and Texas Senate have created a public forum in the Capitol server closets and allowed at least one organization of private citizens, The Texas Tribune, to install servers there for the purpose of streaming legislatively produced audio and video," the lawsuit states. "The Texas House and Texas Senate cannot now deny AgendaWise that same access on the basis of their apparent contempt for the content of AgendaWise's reporting on other matters."

AgendaWise says it took note when a competitor, The Texas Tribune, offered live streaming video from the Texas House and Senate. The video included coverage of the June filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis, which made national news.

The Texas Tribune was able to stream the video because it was granted server space, according to the complaint. For-profit media companies, including Time Warner and AT&T, "for many years" also have been allowed to broadcast live, unedited video from the House and Senate chambers, AgendaWise says.

"After learning that The Texas Tribune was providing streaming video, AgendaWise began to explore how it too might stream video via its website," the lawsuit states. "AgendaWise wishes to engage in several unique projects related to the streaming video that are not currently provided by the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate, or The Texas Tribune. Specifically, AgendaWise has plans to pair the live video stream of the Texas Legislature with real-time social media posts about the Legislature from politicians, media, lobbyists, and other political actors and present these materials side-by-side for the public to follow."

AgendaWise seeks an injunction granting it access to server space, and wants it in time to cover impeachment hearings for Wallace Hall, a member of the University of Texas Board of Regents. Those hearings are scheduled for Oct. 22-23, Nov. 12-13, and Dec. 2-3.

AgendaWise is represented by Clayton Callen, with Graves Garrett in Dallas.

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