Can Alcoa Get Reporters' Notes Under Open Records Laws If The News Organization Is Connected To A State University?

from the protecting-journalists-vs.-freedom-of-information dept

JJ points us to an interesting situation in North Carolina. Apparently, Alcoa, the aluminum giant, is demanding all of the reporting documents associated with a segment done about the company, concerning its attempt to renew its 50-year lease for its facilities on the Yadkin River. Now, normally, a news organization wouldn't turn over such information, but there's a bit of a twist here. The reporting was done by UNC-TV, which is connected to the University of North Carolina. Thus, Alcoa makes the case that it is subject to North Carolina's "Open Records" laws, and it appears that the folks at UNC-TV are realizing they need to comply.

This certainly raises questions about how any news organization that is somehow connected to a gov't entity can feel its reporting is protected. This is also worth remembering as we keep hearing more and more newspapers insist that government subsidies are the best way to save newspapers. Doing so could, potentially, open up similar claims by private entities wishing to dig deeper into a reporters' notes.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    PopeRatzo (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 6:29pm

    No way, no how

    The people at UNC-TV need to tell Alcoa: "take us to court".

    UNC has lawyers on staff. They could always give up the notes, but for god's sake, make Alcoa get a judge to say so.

    I'm sure there have been efforts to get PBS or NPR to give up sources. There's surely case law here that will support the right to protect sources.

    Alcoa is just hoping that a some scared little mouse of a managing officer will fold instead of stand up. Force Alcoa to make a case, don't just start the negotiations by giving up, UNC-TV.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Pixelation, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 6:33pm

    At least they are not simply handing it over without investigating whether or not they need to first.

    IANAL but it would seem that there will be a contradiction in the law. The lawyers should make some good money from this one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Jim, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 7:06pm

    They shouldn't fight it. They'll lose.

    UNC-TV should not fight it. They will lose.

    It is an interesting exercise in asking the question "are really for open government"? If we mean open government only when it means big business will lose then we aren't really for open government, we're anti big business, which is fine, but dishonest to claim otherwise. Give Alcoa the access they rightfully requested and move on to doing actual journalism. Don't waste my tax dollars on the lawyers salaries protecting a story you wrote. Let your reporting speak for itself. If you want safe haven then join a news organization that isn't government affiliated or funded.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 8:54pm

    I'm a bit lost here, what is the issue?

    Getting those notes restrain something? increase accountability?

    I don't see the problem really, but maybe someone can show it to me in a more clear way that it is compelling, to disband my ignorance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    bob, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 9:01pm

    I want open Government

    Also this is being used in a political ad?
    This makes it paramount that it be open, put a little sunlight upon the situation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    BearGriz72 (profile), Jul 20th, 2010 @ 1:14am

    Truly Open Government REQUIRES Freedom of the Press!

    This is the inherent conflict of this situation. Without press shield laws, things like Watergate (just to name the most obvious) would not happen. Does anybody dispute that Freedom of the Press is a useful tool to pry open the doors that The Government wants closed?

    Grated this is not a typical situation, UNC-TV (Presumably standing for 'University of North Carolina Television')is not only somewhat affiliated with state government as a state college, IT IS A UNIVERSITY, A SCHOOL. That (should) place a lot of pressure on them to do the right thing.

    The other side of this is "the fact that the segment aired with a disclaimer at the beginning and end acknowledging that for the first time ever the station abandoned its customary editorial review process" that is disconcerting for the same reason I just mentioned ... it's a school. Why the heck would they do that?

    Like I said it is a conflict, I would be interested in a little more background on this myself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    joe North carolina, Jul 20th, 2010 @ 2:20am

    GET this straight

    first, the state legislature demanded UNC-
    tv turn over materials to them...and unc-tv did so wihout a fight on the basis that they are a state group. It's not clear yet if unc-tv was a driver of this story or if they felt they had a rogue reporter working for a local lawyer who had run amuck. if they were to fight they should have done so then.
    Alcoa simply asked for the info since they had already provided so they could see for themselves what the drivers of the story were. seems like a fair request.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    joe north carolina, Jul 20th, 2010 @ 2:29am

    should add

    unc-tv put disclaimer's on the segment before airing essentially disowning it.
    most of the media in the state are upset they gave in to the legislature. they agree if unc flipped it to them, alcoa has the rights to it too. net/net there's something very fishy behind the production of this show...probably always

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Bob, Jul 20th, 2010 @ 5:41am

    Sell t-shirts

    Don't worry. We can fund the press by selling t-shirts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    btr1701, Jul 21st, 2010 @ 10:47am

    Re: Truly Open Government REQUIRES Freedom of the Press!

    > Without press shield laws, things like Watergate
    > would not happen.

    Ummm.. no. Watergate still would have happened. They just would have gotten away with it without shield laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    BearGriz72 (profile), Jul 24th, 2010 @ 12:21am

    Re: Re: Truly Open Government REQUIRES Freedom of the Press!

    /facepalm - D'oh

    OK, you know what I meant.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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