Importance of government transparency one topic of Media Law Seminar

Emily Andrews

Lawyers, journalists and students all patiently waited with coffee and pastries as walls were constructed for different panel discussions Friday at the third annual Media Law Seminar.

The seminar, held at Stark campus, was titled “The Changing Face of Media Law.” It featured three panel discussions and a speech by keynote speaker Marc Dann, Ohio’s attorney general.

A welcome given by host Timothy D. Smith, professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, started the day.

Three panel discussions were held concurrently and then repeated, so everyone could see two of the three panels. The panels were “Copyright, Trademark and the Internet,” “Reporter’s Privilege and Subpoenas,” and “Access to Information.”

“Reporter’s Privilege and Subpoenas” was moderated by Professor Gary L. Hanson from the Kent State School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The panelists were Tom O’Hara, managing editor of The Plain Dealer and Bernard A. Smith, from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland.

The panel discussed source confidentiality. O’Hara talked about how to get information from sources who wish to remain unnamed. Smith added that it is very hard to get subpoenas to make journalists reveal their sources, so it doesn’t happen very often.

“I think I feel a little better knowing that it’s hard for them to get subpoenas because we are a small paper, and we couldn’t afford to support someone if they were in a situation like that,” said Sheila Naveau, a reporter from the Northwest Signal in Napoleon.

A second panel discussion, “Copyright, Trademark and the Internet” was moderated by Richard D. Senften Jr., a former special projects editor at The Canton Repository. The panelists were A. Brian Dengler, a partner at Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease LLP in Columbus and Professor Jeffrey Samuels from the University of Akron’s School of Law. The panel discussed copyright law, especially regarding electronic use of intellectual property, and how case law has changed the way journalists and citizens conduct business.

“Access to Information” was moderated by Smith. The panelists were Lauren Lubow from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Mark Weaver from the Communications Counsel, Inc. in Columbus. Weaver talked about public records and how Sub. House Bill 9 will change public records policies.

Lubow also talked about House Bill 9. She discussed the different steps it took to get House Bill 9 to pass and how many things were tagged on to make sure it would pass.

“Two things you don’t want to see being made: Sausage and laws,” Weaver said.

Lubow said House Bill 9 will require public officials to learn about public records law, be able to get information on people who carry concealed weapons and much more.

“It was a very informative panel,” said Ashoke S. Talukdar Esq., a staff attorney from The MetroHealth System. “Lauren talking about House Bill 9 gave some information that I would not have picked up on.”

Dann’s speech was titled “Spreading Sunshine: Promoting Government Transparency from the Inside Out.” He emphasized that the public have the right to know what is going on in government.

“Government works best under public scrutiny,” Dann said. “Discussions deserve to be in a public forum.”

He talked about House Bill 9, saying it doesn’t go far enough. He wants everyone in public office positions to know the Sunshine Law and follow it.

He told a story about how he went to a government meeting, and the leader of the meeting said they were going to hold a vote with secret ballots. The circumstances went against the Sunshine Law, so he made the leader resign.

“The media’s role with disclosure of public records is to pressure public officials,” Dann said. “They usually want to do the right thing, but many don’t know (the Sunshine Law), but at the end of the day you’ve got to sue them. They have to be held responsible.”

Contact College of Communication and Information reporter Emily Andrews at [email protected].