There’s an inherent purpose in the free press, one that qualified it to be included in our country’s First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.
An individual’s, and even an organization’s, natural inclination when left unaccountable can foster an environment of secrecy, personal gain and a cost burden left for others — and most often taxpayers — to pay.
It is for that aim that journalists in Utah, the U.S. and the world regularly seek to obtain government records from agencies of all sizes and provide that information for public good.
In Utah, that comes in the form of the Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA requests; and the Freedom of Information act, or FOIA, for federal records requests.
These exist to enable open government, whether it’s journalists or even just a resident.
A battle for transparency with university police departments and the public have been ongoing. Utah Valley University’s own journalism students have sought free access to their campus incident reports after the Police Department insisted they pay fees no other university campus police levy in Utah. Fed up with spending hundreds of dollars per week to obtain these public records, through no intent for maliciousness or maleficence, the students appealed and appealed.
While perhaps entirely coincidental that a decision came during National Newspaper Week from the Utah State Records Committee, a ruling was issued that the students should not be priced out of obtaining the police reports.
We commend these young journalists for seeking to enable transparency on a university level and public safety for their campus and fellow students. It is no small victory. Whether a campus, city, county or state agency, government watchdogs are crucial to transparency and a more effective and efficient government.