Cameraman tries to see through door crack
A cameraman attempts to see through a crack in the door at a Senate hearing in 2012 BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The US Senate has reportedly broken years of precendent and angered reporters and rights groups in the country by barring journalists in the Capitol Building from filming senators in the halls without express permission.

The director of the Senate Radio and Television Gallery told TV reporters on Tuesday that if they wanted to interview a senator in the hallways of the Capitol, they would have to first have permission from the committee's chief counsel and the permission of the senator themselves.

Many questioned whether the announcement was unconstitutional, with others simply saying it was a way for senators to dodge uncomfortable questions as they work on passing a landmark health care bill.

The notice came down from the Senate Rules Committee, with some reports suggesting that it was a unilateral decision from the committee's chairman, Richard Shelby, the Republican senior senator from Alabama.

Shelby rejected the reports in a statement, saying that "The Rules Committee has made no changes to the existing rules governing press coverage on the Senate side of the Capitol complex.

"The Committee has been working with the various galleries to ensure compliance with existing rules in an effort to help provide a safe environment for Members of Congress, the press corps, staff, and constituents as they travel from Senate offices to the Capitol. Once again, no additional restrictions have been put in place by the Rules Committee."

Ranking member on the committee, Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic senator from Minnesota, responded on Twitter saying: "I call on the majority to allow reporting in the Capitol to proceed as usual."

She later posted that she had spoken with Senator Shelby: "He said he wouldn't move forward on change to press access without consulting me and we must hold him to it".

Klobuchar added, "This is no time for limiting press access in U.S. Senate. Russia hearings, Sessions testifying & (secret?) health care bill being drafted!" in reference to reports that Republican senators are keeping new health care legislation behind closed doors.

The American Civil Liberties Union attacked the restrictions, saying: "Preventing the press from informing the public about the workings of their own government goes against the core values of our democracy. For decades, the Capitol building has been open for recorded interviews, which provide a critical window into the legislative process.

"Closing the shutters now, while Congress is secretly considering a bill that would cause over 20 million people to lose health insurance, is utterly unreasonable and flies in the face of the First Amendment."