Series Explores “Open Access: Citizens, Media & Government”

Tuesday, November 1 2011

MOSCOW, Idaho – Huge loads of oil-processing equipment began rumbling through downtown Moscow over the summer, trundling up Highway 95 bound for Canada. And every night, dozens of protesters lined the route, shouting, singing and sometimes sitting down in front of trucks.

“Public protest is enshrined in our Constitution in the First Amendment rights of assembly and petition and is one of the ways citizens ensure access to government decision-making,” said Dinah Zeiger, assistant professor of journalism and mass media at the University of Idaho. “It’s one way the people hold government accountable for its actions.”

The university’s School of Journalism and Mass Media will host a series of events on “Open Access: Citizens, Media & Government,” on Wednesday, Nov. 9, that explore public access to official records and the decision-making processes. All events will be in the Iddings Agricultural Sciences Building Room 106, on the corner of Rayburn and Sixth streets in Moscow.

3 p.m.: Documentary “Fighting Goliath: Megaloads & the Power of Protest.” The documentary film by Hans Guske and Ilya Pinchuck, seniors in the university’s School of Journalism and Mass Media, chronicles the efforts of Idaho residents Borg Hendrickson and Linwood Laughy, who won the Idaho Newspaper Foundation’s 2011 Max Dalton Open Government Award. They sued the Idaho Transportation Department to stop “rolling roadblocks” of oil-processing equipment moving up Highway 12 from the Port of Lewiston to Billings, Mont., enroute to the Kearl Oil Sands in Canada.

The film focuses on the impact of their efforts to hold state government accountable to its own “sunshine” laws. “They lost the battle, but in some ways, they won the war,” Zeiger said.

Panel Discussion. Immediately following the film, a panel will address the issue of public access. Panel participants include Hendrickson, Laughy, William Spence, reporter for the Lewiston Tribune and Betsy Russell, the Boise bureau chief for The Spokesman-Review. Steve Smith, former editor of The Spokesman-Review, is panel moderator.

Every state requires state and local government agencies to hold open meetings and guarantee citizen access to most government records, Zeiger said. At the federal level, the Freedom of Information Act has promoted access to documents since 1966.

“The panel will examine the role of citizens and an informed media in the process of governance and explore the public's ability to shape official decision-making through civic engagement,” Zeiger said.

7 p.m. Lecture: “Open Government: Why It Matters.” Betsy Russell, Boise bureau chief for The Spokesman-Review, covers Idaho state government and also writes the “Eye on Boise” blog. Russell recently was named 2011 “Best Local Blogger” by Boise Weekly. She is the current president of the Idaho Press Club and president and a founding board member of Idahoans for Openness in Government. She has worked for The Spokesman-Review for the past 18 years and is a graduate of the University of California-Berkeley. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

“Russell is a tireless advocate for openness in government,” Zeiger said. She was instrumental in collecting, writing and editing Idaho’s Open Meeting Law and Public Records Law manuals and developing an interactive website hosted by Idaho Public Television, which shows citizens how to use these rules to gain access to government records and decision-making, Zeiger said.

During the day, students will be able to “Exercise Your Write” near the Food Court in the Idaho Commons. The “exercise” involves an almost-antique form of communication – the typewriter – and a message.

“It takes some effort to use a typewriter, once you’ve found one,” Zeiger said. Getting access to government records also requires effort. Event organizers have combined the two from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. She encourages members of the community to “write us a message.”

Zeiger added: “We’ll collect the typed comments and share them at events scheduled later in the day.”

All events are sponsored by the university’s School of Journalism and Mass Media, with support from the university’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research, and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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About the University of Idaho
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