I learned about the Ohio University SPJ chapter doing their Ohio public university open records audit last fall and eagerly awaited their results. I had a sneaking suspicion they might find some uncooperative campuses. And geez, did they.
Nearly 60 percent of all records requested by the students were denied, while 24 percent were provided “no questions asked” another 17 percent were handed over after student identified themselves as journalists. Ohio law makes no special provisions for access to documents by journalists as compared to non-journalist citizens.
Gregory Korte, SPJ’s Ohio Freedom of Information co-chairperson, has written about this audit on the Ohio SPJ FOI Web site. It’s also been written about by The Cincinnati Enquirer, among other publications.
This may not seem like a big deal to some, but for a democracy to work transparency is paramount. Though some documents can and should be sealed by the government, the vast majority should not. The public must have a right to know how their government acts, works and functions – or doesn’t – on their behalf.
Lately there has been a dramatic shift away from open, easily-accessible public records. When in the past federal records, for example, were given away unless there was substantial reasons requiring their secrecy, the exact opposite is now true. It seems to be spilling downward as policy-makers and courts begin to shift away from this transparency.
And what does this mean to non-journalists? It means reporters cannot do their jobs as effectively. In turn, the public knows less about what their government is doing – from police officers to mayors to courts to jailers – it goes on and on. And that, folks, ain’t good any way you slice it.