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July 26, 2004

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Bush Administration Pulls Funding
For Foreign Press Centers

By Seth Effron, Media Nation Staff | July 23, 2004

BOSTON - Hiro Aida, Washington bureau chief for Japan’s Kyodo News, arrives in Boston to cover the National Democratic Convention without some critical support.

For the first time in at least 20 years, the Foreign Press Center, an arm of the State Department that supports the international press in the United States, isn't funding or supporting press centers at the national political conventions. As many as 400 international reporters are expected to cover the two events this year.

"We are not so experienced in U.S. politics; and giving us an objective view about why Americans are doing this, explaining American customs and other things about bridging understanding for the foreign press [is important]," Aida said in a telephone interview from his office in Washington as he prepared to travel to Boston.

Congressional news media galleries, which handle the distribution of convention press credentials, were sent scrambling when they learned that State Department funding would not be available. Jerry Gallegos, director of the House of Representatives Press Gallery, said the centers typically provide workspace, staffing, phone lines, cable TV, copiers and fax machines for the international press.

The centers "do God's work on behalf of the United States and the foreign press," Gallegos said. At past conventions, the Foreign Press Center has offered policy and politics briefings. Four years ago, the center offered a tour of Philadelphia historic sites for international reporters covering the 2000 Republican National Convention. During this past winter's caucus and primary season, the Foreign Press Center provided support for international reporters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other stops on the trail to the presidential nominations.

The centers "have been very helpful in very many ways," Kyodo News' Aida said. "We expect their help [in order] for us to understand and cover politics and other issues here. . . . This is an important time for the foreign press to report about the United States and have a deeper understanding."

When contacted this week about the matter, State Department officials said funds for the centers, which cost between $15,000 and $25,000 per convention, were cut for budget reasons. Some officials on Capital Hill suggested that the move is an expression of the Bush Administration's dissatisfaction with the tone of international reporting on the conflict in Iraq, as well as other coverage of the administration. The State Department officials denied that this was the reason.

Gallegos said the congressional news media galleries have been seeking alternative funds for the centers. Some minimal funding was arranged late last week for a center at the GOP event in New York, but the galleries couldn’t find money for the Democratic Convention.

Aida said the Democrats are providing some room for the international press. "We have some small desks in the press stand inside the Fleet Center and phones, and can work from there." In addition, the Kyodo News bureau chief plans to file using cell phones or from hotel rooms.




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