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Council Considers Defining News Rep

INDEPENDENCE -- City Council will consider sometime in November a resolution that allows it to determine what qualifications a journalist must meet in order to attend executive sessions.

INDEPENDENCE -- City Council will consider sometime in November a resolution that allows it to determine what qualifications a journalist must meet in order to attend executive sessions.

The policy is modeled after existing legislation in Columbia County and Lake Oswego that have gained widespread scorn from media law experts because of the precedent it sets regarding Oregon Public Meetings Law.

Critics also contend the policy essentially allows governments to define what a media representative is.

Lake Oswego City Council adopted the provision earlier this month after a writer for a political blog tried to attend an executive session and was asked to leave.

Karin Johnson, Independence City Recorder, said she submitted the resolution for council discussion after reading an essay in the League of Oregon Cities newsletter about the issue of municipalities deciding whether or not to recognize bloggers as news media representatives.

Johnson said there has never been an instance in Independence to her knowledge where an individual has cited a blog or Web site as their news credential. The resolution is meant to clear up potential confusion, she said.

"It's not like it's a burning issue, but it's better to be proactive rather than reactive," she said.

County, city and school board government entities can conduct executive sessions -- or meetings closed to the public -- when discussing sensitive topics, according to state statutes.

Unless matters concern personnel changes, student discipline or a lawsuit to which the news organization is a party, journalists are usually allowed to attend to gather background information. They cannot publish what is said unless state meeting laws are being violated.

Per Independence's proposed policy, several regional newspapers and a Salem radio station are recognized as news media organizations not required to provide further proof of being established news institutions.

Entities not on that list must demonstrate that they publish, broadcast or update news once a week and have a publication containing at least 25 percent news content.

Requirements to attend an executive session include a press badge and a recently published news article by a recognized media organization with a byline.

"It sets up a situation where you're being certified ... so you have to meet government requirements, in effect, to be certified as a media representative," said Judson Randall, president of Open Oregon and a media adviser at Portland State University, of the policy in a telephone interview. "What a government entity gives, it can take away."

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