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NUTHIN' UP MY SLEEVE!: A cow moose rests Tuesday in 3 feet of snow beside the Logan River just west of Tony Grove. / Photo by Mike Sweeney

Today's word on journalism

Friday, March 10, 2006

Help Wanted: U.S. Defense Department Seeks Better PR Officers

"Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but . . . our country has not adapted. For the most part, the U.S. government still functions as a 'five and dime' store in an eBay world."

--U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on why al Qaeda is winning hearts and minds, in speech to U.S. Council on Foreign Relation (Thanks to alert WORDster Mark Larson) WORD Note: The WORD will take the next week off for Spring Break, sleeping in and seeking wisdom. Return: 3/20/06

Pending legislation may strip journalists of essential GRAMA rights

By Mikaylie Kartchner

February 3, 2006 | As a journalist, the First Amendment is a sacred thing for me. In lots of ways it is the core of everything I do. Every time I write an article, voice an opinion, or find the courage to ask the tough questions the First Amendment is there to back me up and make sure my freedom is protected.

It's true. Journalism would be a waste without this great law, but many other aspects of everyday life would go down the tubes as well. Without it the people would lose their freedom of speech, freedom of religion, not to mention freedom of the press.

Perhaps that's why I'm a little concerned that the people are allowing the First Amendment to be slowly hacked away.

You don't believe me? Well, it's happening. Everywhere, God is being thrown out of courts, out of schools, out of our lives. Does that sound like freedom of religion to you? What good is the right to believe in God if you're only allowed to practice it in the privacy of your own closet?

Sadly, this crackdown on religion is not the only example of First Amendment amputations. Right now, sitting in Salt Lake City amongst other bits of pending legislation, are three bills designed to take their own chunk out of our freedom. These bills would reduce the privileges granted to the public by the Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA), which determines how our state government can classify records and who can have access.

This is a problem. Not only does GRAMA affect journalists' ability to gather information, and therefore their ability to report it, but it requires that government practice out in the open, and allows the public to be informed about what their government is really doing.

I could be wrong, but as I understand it, this is still a government by the people. So it should make sense that "the people" be able to get involved as much as possible. Unlike current religious trends, the construction of public policy is not something we are at all willing to take into the closet. This is our America and we want to keep it that way.

Of course not everyone uses GRAMA, at least not in the literal fill-out-the-form and get-the-stacks-of-info-for-themselves kind of way. In fact, many people have probably never even heard of it. This truth has been the ammunition for several Utah politicians who support the bills, saying GRAMA was not created "so journalist could sell newspapers."

Touché! They're absolutely right. GRAMA was not created to sell newspapers. It was, however, created to keep the public informed and politicians honest, a job which often falls to journalists to keep in force. The fact that they sometimes find information about government that sells papers, such as fraud, theft, etc, is simply a byproduct of performing this important job.

In truth, it really shouldn't matter who is using GRAMA as long as it is still serving the best interests of the people, which it is.

Laws such as GRAMA and the First Amendment are not playing offense in the Legislature. They are the defense, there to protect us if we get into sticky situations, there to discourage government officials from crossing the line and there to encourage the people to take a more active role in governing themselves. The fact that they're not being utilized by everyone does not give politicians the right to start chopping. Not everyone has dialed 911. But it's important it's there, just in case you ever have to.

Please speak up for the right of all Utahns to transparency in government. Contact state Rep. Fred Hunsaker, fhunsaker@utah.gov, and Senator Lyle Hillyard, lhillyard@utahsenate.org, and ask them to vote against the GRAMA amendments.

This column originally appeared in The Utah Statesman and is used with permission.

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