legislation may strip journalists of essential GRAMA
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
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
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Senator Lyle Hillyard,
email@example.com, and ask them to
vote against the GRAMA amendments.
This column originally appeared
in The Utah Statesman and is used with permission.