The Naples Daily News is going to co-host a Sunshine Seminar in September to better explain Florida’s public records and open meeting laws.
Elected officials and the people who elect them — that would be the general public — will be invited along with our reporters and editors.
The seminars are presented by the First Amendment Foundation and the Florida Bar Media & Communications Committee.
Those two groups partner with newspapers around the state to stage the seminars. The two groups also publish a guidebook each year. Those in attendance will get the 2010 “Government-In-The-Sunshine Manual” that details Florida’s unique laws concerning open government, ranging from rules for public meetings to how much government can charge for public documents. It also explains any recent changes in the open-government statutes.
The Naples session will begin at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 28. Details on cost and how to register will be publicized starting next month. Stay tuned for the location. This is just a heads up.
The First Amendment Foundation, which is based in Tallahassee, no doubt has taken note of two First Amendment issues that have occurred recently outside of Florida.
The first was a move by a Michigan lawmaker to pass a statute that would help sort out who is a “journalist” and who is not. The proposal would offer news reporters a state license similar to the ones issued to hairdressers, contractors, butchers and plumbers.
You could get a “news reporter” license if you were ethical, of good moral character, had a journalism degree and three years of experience. You would also have to submit three writing samples to whatever state office would be placed in charge of overseeing the program.
The lawmaker told Fox News last month that legitimate media sources are critically important to our democracy, yet many reporters don’t know what they are doing and seem to be working for start-up news Web sites or blogs that are less than credible.
The bill’s sponsor doesn’t see a conflict with the First Amendment’s ban on laws restricting free speech or freedom of the press, because his proposed license would be voluntary.
To the lawmaker’s credit he admitted he doesn’t think the legislation will pass.
He just wanted to make a point that news reporters should be skilled in what they do.
Having a government agency serve as the judge is — of course — absurd, unless you run a totalitarian government, then it’s quite logical.
The other First Amendment issue came out of Pennsylvania where two county court judges, who approved requests to expunge the arrest records of several individuals, ordered a newspaper to remove news stories from its website.
The editor refused, saying Pennsylvania law may allow a judge to redact an individual’s arrest record at the courthouse but it doesn’t give him or her any power to eliminate articles from a newspaper archive.
The judges relented and rescinded their directive.
Hats off to the editor, who cited the First Amendment and then balked at a government order to erase history.
Wonder if that would qualify him for one of those journalist licenses up in Michigan?
Phil Lewis is editor of the Daily News; his e-mail address is email@example.com