WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Associated Press has decided not to cover a Republican presidential debate to protest limits placed on media coverage by its organizers.
Fox News Channel and the South Carolina Republican Party are co-sponsoring the first GOP debate of the 2012 presidential race on Thursday. But the sponsors are barring still photographers from entering the hall in Greenville, S.C., during the debate.
That is a change from past debates, when Fox permitted still photographers greater access. Both AP and Reuters photographers were permitted extensive access to the January 2008 GOP primary debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., including multiple photographers from each agency allowed in the hall during large parts of the debate, said J. David Ake, the AP's assistant chief of bureau/photos.
"The opening stages of an event as important as the presidential selection process should be as accessible as possible to all forms of journalism," said Michael Oreskes, the AP's senior managing editor. "These candidates want to lead the country. The country has a right to see them from various angles, not only where the TV cameras are positioned."
Fox informed the AP and Reuters that it will only allow 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.
Reuters has told Fox and the South Carolina Republican Party that it will not accept such coverage restrictions. The McClatchy Co., which owns five daily newspapers in South Carolina, also objected to the restrictions but is covering the debate.
"It's unimaginable that an event that is all about reaching voters comes with limits that bar information and images from the very people the debate is meant to reach," said Anders Gyllenhaal, McClatchy's top news executive.
South Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Joel Sawyer said there have been restrictions on photography in the past and that the event would be seen by many people even without still photographers present.
Archive photos show photographers from both agencies were allowed in during extensive parts of the 2008 debate, Ake said.
Cherie Grzech, Fox director of politics, said: "AP will be allowed access before and after the debate if they are interested."
The GOP field is far from set. Roughly a dozen Republicans are considering running for president or have taken initial steps toward full-fledged campaigns, but only five will participate in the Thursday night debate: former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and pizza magnate Herman Cain.
They are the only candidates who met the sponsors' criteria to participate: forming a presidential exploratory committee, filing state GOP paperwork and paying $25,000 to get on the primary ballot.