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Input Sought For Guidelines On Closed-Door Coverage

INDEPENDENCE -- Independence will delay a decision on its proposed set of criteria that journalists must meet to attend executive sessions until a task force of municipal government and news media ind

INDEPENDENCE -- Independence will delay a decision on its proposed set of criteria that journalists must meet to attend executive sessions until a task force of municipal government and news media industry leaders co-author policy guidelines.

This follows a discussion last week in Portland between members of the Oregon Society of Professional Journalists, the Oregon Association of Broadcasters and other industry organizations, and officials from Independence, Lake Oswego and the League of Oregon Cities.

The meeting was coordinated because of potential laws floated by the aforementioned cities that would force news media representatives to meet certain standards in order to sit in on executive sessions, which are closed to the public.

Laurie Hieb, Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association executive director, said everyone at the Nov. 13 conference agreed to forming a work group that would devise a "model set of guidelines" that governments with inquiries about executive sessions can adopt or consult as a resource.

Representatives of the group haven't been selected and there is no timeline for when it would issue recommendations, Hieb said.

Government bodies like city councils can hold executive sessions when discussing sensitive topics, such as property transactions. Journalists may attend, unless matters concern labor negotiations, student discipline, or litigation to which the news organization is a party. They can publish what is said only if meeting rules are broken.

The proposals by Independence and Lake Oswego were prompted by concerns over how nontraditional news media fits within Oregon meetings law; Lake Oswego developed a policy after a blogger tried to attend an executive session of its City Council this summer.

Critics claim the proposal allows governments to define what a journalist is.

Having the work group create guidelines is desirable "because it would be a collaborated effort that will hopefully result in less patchwork policies across the state," Hieb said.

City Councilor Marilyn Morton said last week's discussion was civil and that most media representatives expressed that their main interest was protecting the rights journalists currently enjoy under Oregon law.

"I heard varying opinions of people who know bloggers," she said. "It ran the gamut from those who were serious and trustworthy to those who weren't."

Morton said she believes cities need a public meeting policy that addresses technology and the changing nature of news distribution.

"This would allow us to respond responsibly instead of reacting to situations as they come up," Morton said.

She added, however, that news institutions should take the lead in developing such guidelines. One suggestion from the media representatives at the meeting was devising criteria by which "they could credential themselves as an industry," Morton said.

"Because if we're setting the standard within city government, there's always the chance of stepping on the first amendment," she added, "and I don't want to go there."

But "part of the (challenge) is changing something that is long-used and well established," she continued. "Any time you do that, it's almost as if a long set of rules have to be written to govern it."

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