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Fred H. Cate
Distinguished Professor, IU Maurer School of Law

James Boyd
IU Maurer School of Law
(812) 856-1497

Last modified: Monday, May 24, 2010

Access Denied: New DVD to train journalists, students on media law

May 24, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- One of the most common problems journalists say they face in the post-9/11 world is the lack of access to government documents and other information that has traditionally been made public.

A new DVD created by the Indiana University Maurer School of Law will help train professional journalists, students and the public on problems of accessibility to public documents and officials. Access Denied: Navigating the Legal Challenges to Newsgathering, is a round-table forum featuring scholars, journalists and attorneys.

Access Denied: A new DVD to help

Access Denied: Navigating the Legal Challenges to Newsgathering, will assist journalists and lawyers with the conflicts that arise in the newsgathering process, especially in areas of accessibility.

"Most journalists say the greatest threats they face today are from access limits," said Distinguished Professor Fred H. Cate, who moderated the forum. "New privacy rights, restrictions on federal and state freedom of information laws, secret judicial dockets and the closure of traditionally public records are making information harder to access in both the public and private sectors."

Cate brought together five nationally recognized journalists, lawyers, and scholars to discuss the changing landscape of access laws. Participants included:

  • David Cuillier, a former reporter and editor and current assistant professor in the University of Arizona School of Journalism and the Freedom of Information Committee chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists
  • Stephen Key, a former journalist who now serves as general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association
  • Jane E. Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law and a faculty member at the University of Minnesota
  • Toni Locy, the Donald W. Reynolds Professor of Legal Reporting at Washington & Lee University and a former reporter for the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Associated Press
  • Dennis R. Ryerson, editor and vice president of The Indianapolis Star

The two-hour program touches on several critical issues, such as the closing of records that had once been public, shield laws, and the increased secrecy following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Panelists engaged in a lively debate that will serve as a catalyst for discussion among viewers.

DVDs are being sent free of charge to every communication and journalism school in the United States, every law school offering media and communications law courses, every state media association, and every state open records or public access group. An online discussion guide will help audiences begin their own discussions on accessibility.

"Journalists need to be ever vigilant on issues of access to information," Ryerson said. "An increasingly polarized, and at times paranoid political sector, combined with heightened public concerns about personal security contribute to a mindset of closure rather than openness. This project is a reminder for us all to be aware of the issues and to continue the fight for open government at every level, every day."

Cate, a communications law professor and privacy expert, had the idea to create a teaching tool after concluding most media law classes in law and journalism schools focus on publication torts (such as defamation, libel, invasion of privacy cases) rather than the challenges to information accessibility.

"Significant challenges surrounding journalist access to information, places and people tends to receive far less attention," Cate said. "It is abundantly clear that obtaining access is a major challenge for most journalists and the public."

Access Denied was produced and is being distributed with generous support from the IU School of Journalism, WTIU and Elon University. WTIU will air the program in its entirety throughout the month of June in the Bloomington area. The first part will be broadcast on June 3 (1 p.m.), June 10 (9 p.m.), and June 20 (4 p.m.), while the second part will be broadcast on June 10 (1 p.m.), June 17 (9 p.m.), and June 20 (5 p.m.).