The Jambar reporter denied access to finance meeting
During the investigation for the “SGA appropriations process questioned” story, reporters for The Jambar attended Student Government Association finance committee meetings on Oct. 7 and Oct. 21, however a reporter was denied access to the Nov. 4 meeting.
Reporter Liam Bouquet arrived at the meeting approximately ten minutes before the it began. Catie Carney, president of SGA, asked Bouquet to wait outside for the meeting to officially begin.
While he was waiting, Bouquet was approached by Charesse Hagan, the SGA vice president of financial affairs. She said that the committee was uncomfortable with Bouquet recording and that she believed Bouquet’s intentions were not in SGA’s best interest, so he would not be allowed access to the meeting.
Bouquet explained that Hagan’s request was contrary to Ohio’s laws, but she continued to deny him access.
Frank LoMonte, Youngstown State University Student Press Law Center executive director, said that a government body
denying access to a reporter for the above reasons was in defiance of Ohio’s Open Meetings Act.
“The law certainly does not allow a government officer, even a student officeholder, to close an otherwise open meeting because she doesn’t like what the reporter intends to write. There are only very narrow exceptions in the law, such as consulting with legal counsel, but, of course, simply being annoyed at a reporter isn’t one of those exceptions,” LoMonte said. “A meeting to discuss the student activity fee budget should pretty clearly be an open-to-the-public meeting under state law.”
According to the Digital Media Law Project, a project formed by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society to give the public access to free legal advice and a wide range of media laws, Ohio’s open records law does not state whether or not recording devices are allowed at public meetings. Though, the Ohio Attorney General has said that using recording devices is permissible when “it does not unduly interfere with the meeting.”
Per the Ohio Revision Code 2933.51, consent for recordings is not required when the speaker does not have a reasonable expectation for privacy in their conversation, such as when a conversation occurs in public. It remains unclear if a public meeting would fall under this criterion.
After Bouquet was denied entry to the meeting, The Jambar contacted Holly Jacobs, YSU general counsel who said that the legal question is whether SGA is considered a public body under the Ohio Open Meetings Act.
LoMonte said that a student government is a government body.
“The general rule is that meetings must be open if the committee is part of the chain of authority toward making a decision on government policy. Allocating student fee money certainly is a matter of government policy. Even though this is a very low rung of government, they’re exercising authority that flows from the Board of Regents and president, so they’re part of the chain of making government policy,” LoMonte said.