One of the best editorials I've seen on the matter:
UC execs could do with some education of their own- by Thomas Peele
EARLIER THIS month, University of California officials barred a documentary filmmaker from videotaping a public meeting of the Board of Regents in violation of a bedrock state access law, the Bagley-Keene Act.
It was a pretty plain abuse. The law is unambiguous: anyone may record a state meeting. Permission, identification and statement of purpose are specifically not required.
Yet the filmmaker, an Angeleno named Ric Chavez, was made to jump through hoops like a show dog by a trio of university flaks before the door was slammed in his face. Then, incredibly, a top spokeswoman who barred him said she had never heard of the act that governs public access to meetings of state bodies.
I asked this spokeswoman, Lynn Tierney, who works in the office of the University President at a 2009 salary of $220,623, to explain her actions. She didn't reply.
For that much money one might expect Tierney to know that the law requires her to stay out of the way if someone shows up with a camera at a public meeting. That she claims not to know this is appalling.
According to coverage of the flap in the San Francisco Chronicle, Tierney told Chavez he couldn't tape the meeting because he was not a legitimate member of the press. "We don't know why you're bringing the camera in," the Chronicle reported her saying to him.
Chavez is making a film about the university. He could have told her he wanted footage to bore his kids to sleep. Or to teach a parrot to mock public officials. It didn't matter, not one bit.
The university's top lawyer, Charles Robinson, tried to explain the matter in a mealy-mouth letter to the Society of Professional Journalists. UC's "current policy on media coverage dates to 1975," he wrote. It will be reviewed and updated, he added "to be fully consistent with California open meeting laws."
The Bagley-Keene Act was passed in 1967. All that a university policy can do is require more access than the law, which is simply the minimum possible requirement. That a "policy on media coverage" is needed is ridiculous on its face. The official policy on press freedom is the First Amendment.
If we leave it up to people such as Tierney to decide who is a legitimate member of the media and who isn't, we're lost.
The Supreme Court was even unable to make such a definition. In its landmark 1972 decision Brazenberg vs. Hayes, the court refused to grant journalists a protection of federal subpoenas, saying to do so would force a definition of who received the privilege was extended.
"Sooner or later, it would be necessary to define those categories of newsmen who qualified for the privilege, a questionable procedure in light of the traditional doctrine that liberty of the press is the right of the lonely pamphleteer who uses carbon paper or a mimeograph just as much as of the large metropolitan publisher who utilizes the latest photocomposition methods," Justice Byron White wrote in the decision.
Call Chavez' camera a modern-day mimeograph.
We live in the age of the independent journalist. Chavez had no less right to record the meeting than I would have as an employee of a newspaper publisher.
What happened to him is even more egregious when the very mission of the university to educate and enlighten is considered. Freedom comes in all forms. The university grants tenure to professors so they may commit acts of intellectual honesty without retribution, yet its gatekeepers think they can act as censors.
How would they have reacted if it had been a documentary film student from Berkeley's graduate school of journalism who showed up with a camera in San Francisco? Would the same challenge of legitimacy have been made?
At a time when the ever-changing news industry means more and more journalists work independently — blogging, writing for websites, making films — knowledge of laws such as the Bagley-Keene Act are more important than ever.
This fall, for the first time, the journalism school is requiring incoming students to take a class in public records and public access. It will be taught by two veteran professors and me in my capacity as a part-time instructor at the school.
Maybe the gatekeepers could swing by and take some notes. Videotape it if they want.
- Richard Blum (AGAIN!)
- Wm. De La Pena
- Gareth Elliott
- George Kieffer
- Sherry Lansing (AGAIN!)
- Hadi Makarechian
- Eloy Ortiz Oakley
- Norman Pattiz (AGAIN!)
- John A. Pérez
- Bonnie Reiss
- Richard Sherman
- Bruce Varner
- Charlene Zettel
- VACANT (M Anguiano?)
- VACANT (L Park?)
- UC Regents Committees
- Staff Advisors, Faculty Reps, Designates
- Ex Officio UC Regents
- UC Alumni Regents
- VACANT (E Tauscher?)
- VACANT (H Guber?)
- Paul Monge
"If the University were a business, it would likely be the largest corporation in California."
"If The University Were A Business, It Would Likely Be The Largest Corporation In California"-Regents Minutes (2010)