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HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Closed meetings and the “media”

Written March 22nd, 2013 by
Must you have apprenticed on one of these to be considered media?

Must you have apprenticed on one of these to be considered media?

Oregon’s public meetings law, adopted 40 years ago, allows some meetings of public bodies to be closed to the public. But it has a weird provision requiring that news media representatives must be allowed in, with only two exceptions. The law does not, however, say what it means by news media.

Forty years ago the term was understood, but time and technology have marched on. Traditional media like newspapers and broadcast stations have branched off into online work. Some longtime newspapermen, such as myself, for example, have their own online outlets like the one you are reading now. And now there’s an issue: Should I, or reporters and commentators like me, be allowed to attend so-called executive sessions of, say, the city council, sessions that are closed to the general public?

Anybody can start his own online publication and report or comment on the news as he sees fit. So why would persons doing that not count as “media”? If they do count, then the distinction between news media and the general public disappears.

In 1973, legislators thought reporters would be better informed about public issues if they knew all the background when the time came to write the story later. Good idea, but this news media exemption has been more of a problem than a help, if only because later it’s often hard to remember whether what you know about an issue was confidential or not.

Having sat through a good many of these closed sessions myself, I can’t remember one where the public interest would have suffered lasting harm if the session had been open instead. With the new complication about news media, Oregon might well be better off if executive sessions were no longer allowed. (hh)

Ray Kopczynski (Albany city councilor): “Anybody can start his own online publication and report or comment on the news as he sees fit. So why would persons doing that not count as “media”? If they do count, then the distinction between news media and the general public disappears.”  Being old school, I’ll say the distinction should be made.  You have earned the right by your past experience and as such, can claim status as ’emeritus.’  Your experience has also garnered you the trust of many folks.  I will also suggest the very definition of these sessions has potentially serious “attorney-client” relationship/discussions which by their very nature need to be confidential.  That you perceive there has been nothing of note that couldn’t be fully in the public realm; in that we disagree.



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