Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A "right" to gather the news

In the continuing bizarre conflict between WSPD and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, the Mayor barred a WSPD reporter from a public press conference (details here). While I think it was a ridiculous decision on behalf of the Mayor that will only lead to more difficulties for him and our city, it raises some interesting questions about a 'right' to gather news.

Courts have long maintained that a freedom of the press leads to freedom to gather the data. While there are some restrictions which have arisen over time (national security, social security numbers, identification of juveniles who commit crimes), these are usually identified in public records laws created in the wake of court rulings. Further, the courts have ruled that the media is not entitled to special access, where members of the general public would be prohibited (like crime scenes). The Supreme Court has further ruled that as long as restrictions treat the media and public equally, they raise no constitutional questions.

But the courts have also ruled that "an arbitrary interference with access to important information is an abridgement of the press freedom protected by the First Amendment. . . . The First Amendment protects the public and the press from abridgement of their right of access to information about the operation of their government." (Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Virginia)

So Carty 'arbitrarily' decides that a local reporter is "not objective" and thus not allowed access to his public press conference. He further exacerbates the situation by refusing to account for the decision to restrict access to a member of the media.

It seems the Mayor needs a lesson in basic First Amendment rights - and he should probably rethink his criticism of Ottawa County Sheriff Robert Bratton's "arrogance in government."

10 comments:

Lisa Renee said...

Personally I think the drama between the Mayor and WSPD has been at the silly stage for quite some time. Yet, without having heard the City's argument I'm going to suggest what will be said is that Kevin is not a "news reporter" but an "on air personality" since I've heard this stated before.

I also believe WSPD will benefit more from the increased listeners and increased free media coverage from other stations on the whole situation than what would have happened had they just allowed Kevin in. So realistically? The Mayor and his staff did WSPD a favor as I'm sure this will be the "Talk of the Town" for days to come.

Maggie Thurber said...

Lisa - good points...I agree that this will be a bonus for WSPD. But Kevin has a dual role, the news and his show, so this raises some interesting constitutional issues. Additionally, if - as mayor - you're going to do something like ban a person from your press conferences, you should be prepared with an explanation ... something that seems to be lacking at this time.

I'm sure there's more to come on this...

Kurt said...

While I think Carty may have grounds to bar WSPD, I certainly think he is taking a line from our current president in restricting our fundamental freedoms. I'm extraordinarily disappointed with the mayor for this situation, for the democrats should stand for the constitution while the republicans try to eat away at those basic rights in the name of terrorism. Pathetic like Ohio State playing Florida.

Maggie Thurber said...

Kurt - as much as you'd like to stretch this issue into a comparison with the federal government, I really don't think Carty's taking lessons from anyone in DC. I think this is all about egos - and Carty's met someone (in the persona of WSPD) who's not going to back down.

So - the saga continues...

JMM said...

This tiff between WSPD and The Mayor is way past being silly. WSPD has lost listeners and this is another attempt by Brian Wilson to raise his sinking ratings. I am not defending the Mayor - he does have issues. But Wilson needs to move on.

After seeing this on a local news channel.I am now more determined to NOT listen to WSPD until we get decent hosts that will talk about real issues facing this city and stop bitching about grade school playground BS.

Karen said...

Taken as a single incident, this might be a 'so what' situation to most people. Unfortunately, this meglomaniacal behavior is the norm for Carty (in my constitutionally protected opinion).

Allowing the individual being reported on determine the objectivity of the reporting is nonsensical. Allowing Carty to get away with this behavior will reinforce to Toledoans and outsiders alike what a declining, inhospitable place Toledo is and further discourage incoming businesses and residents alike.

That Carty was deemed the best choice in the last mayoral election (especially knowing his previous outrageous behavior) illustrates 1) the poor field of candidates and 2) Toledoans refuse to toss out the old guard.

And this is what we get.

historymike said...

Kevin Milliken is a professional journalist, and most of his career has worked as a reporter.

Only recently has he added the "Eye on Toledo" role as commentator, but he is still a credentialed member of the media, and should be treated the same as any other media representative.

I have attended countless governmental press conferences in which I was never even asked to show credentials (although a mug like mine is hard to forget :-}). The Mayor's attempt to selectively determine who is a "legitimate" member of the media is a dangerous precedent.

Kate said...

And so, another local politician creates a fantastic lawsuit potential and the tax payers will likely have to bear the cost.

Per usual.

If WSPD sues over this (and they have every right to and I fully expect that they will), I wish they would take that into consideration. And if the action is not a part of the scope and duties of the position - go after the offending party personally? Wonder if you can do that.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Maggie,

Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe that the State issues the press credentials and so are valid until revoked.

I further believe that quite a few folks at WSPD-AM have these credentials.

If so, "The Charlatan" IMO, has put the citizens of Toledo in jeopardy of being hit with an un-winnable lawsuit.

If I were WSPD-AM, I'd be shooting for one big "Here Mayor, have another big fat sloppy slice of crow pie" in addition to many other unspecified and equally humbling damages, plus $1 and ALL legal fees.

I believe that when this is over, "The Charlatan" will get the spanking that he deserves, but will learn nothing from it.

And that is because the "old dog" that "Ye the Sheeple" had elected, yet again and he is too old and too stubborn to learn from his misteaks ;-)

(Thanks for letting me rant!)

Right Wing Toledo said...

Regardless of WSPD's loss of listenership in recent months, I was listening to Fred's show in the morning when the whole flap over the bike path erupted. Carty tried the 'ole bluster in an attempt to intimidate Fred, and when it didn't work he resorted to personal attack.

Once he used his office (and by extension, the city) to retaliate - Carty stepped over the line. Refusal to give notice of press conferences and public information, as we've seen in the temporary restraining order, may well be a part of the First Amendment protection accorded the press. But, when Kevin Milikin was critical of Carty's handling of the Ottawa County Jail Affair, the Mayor didn't just put his toe in the water, he jumped off the high dive. To instruct a city employee to deny the First Amendment Rights to a credentialed reporter, would that be akin to a district attorney instructing the police to not let a suspect call his or her lawyer? Both are violations of rights guaranteed int he Constitution, and we all know which one is listed first.

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