Legislator pulls anti-transparency bill after SPJ/LA, others protest

Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) has pulled AB 700, her bill to exempt a vast swath of university research materials from the state’s public-record disclosure law. Her decision came after protests from SPJ/LA, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the ACLU, and other journalism organizations and open-government advocates.

AB 700 was introduced on Feb. 19, 2019 and breezed through the Assembly Judiciary Committee on April 2 on a 9-3 vote, despite reservations voiced by Chairman Mark Stone (who ultimately supported it.) But it ran aground before it could be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee after fierce opposition from journalism organizations across the state, consumer advocates, animal-rights groups, and others concerned that it would throw a shroud of secrecy around research funded and/or conducted by public universities.

See SPJ/LA letter of protest here and a second letter from SPJ/LA President Stephanie Bluestein here.

In a May 2 Facebook post, Friedman cited a November 2018 article in New York Times about the “weaponizing” of public-record requests and its potentially chilling effect on research as her rationale for introducing the bill. Then she explained her reason for tabling it for the remainder of the 2019 legislative session:

“Our open records laws are critical to government transparency – they rightly protect the public’s right to know what’s happening with their tax dollars and keep decision makers at all levels accountable. However, like many of you I find the push by some industries, whether they are the NRA intent on discrediting research on lead poisoning in wildlife, tobacco companies seeking to stifle public health research, or chemical manufacturers racing to register patents based on public research, troubling….Over the past month, I’ve heard from a number of organizations and advocates about their concerns and outright opposition to the bill…AB 700 was never intended to obscure animal research, sexual harassment, or professional wrongdoing. That’s why I’m putting a hold on the bill for this year.”

SPJ/LA will continue to monitor the situation and will be prepared to speak out again should the bill return for further legislative consideration.

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SPJ/LA Letter to UC Board of Regents

Society of Professional Journalists
Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter
Post Office Box 572632
Tarzana, CA 91357

 

March 5, 2019

To the UC Board of Regents:
Maria Anguiano
Richard C. Blum
Laphonza Butler
Michael Cohen
Gareth Elliott
Cecilia Estolano
Devon Graves
Howard “Peter” Guber
George Kieffer
Sherry L. Lansing
Richard Leib
Hadi Makarechian
Eloy Ortiz Oakley
Lark Park
John A. Pérez
Richard Sherman
Jonathan “Jay” Sures
Ellen Tauscher
Charlene Zettel

Ex Officio Regents
Gavin Newsom
Eleni Kounalakis
Anthony Rendon
Tony Thurmond
Janet Napolitano
Darin Anderson
Jason Morimoto

Dear Members:

I am writing on behalf of the Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ/LA) to call to your attention what we believe to be a willful violation by UCLA of the California Public Records Act. We have been seeking some very specific information from UCLA without success for the past year, and UCLA has honored neither the letter nor the spirit of the law in failing to provide it, or even in providing any explanation or justification for their failure to provide it.

On February 26, 2018, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin delivered a lecture on the UCLA campus at the invitation of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations. It is the longstanding practice of the Center to post the video and podcast of such appearances its website; these are, after all, public appearances by public figures on a publicly funded college campus, open to the general public.

Nevertheless, because hecklers at one point briefly disrupted his presentation, Secretary Mnuchin retroactively withdrew his permission to post the video, and UCLA complied. After SPJ/LA and other organizations publicly complained that UCLA had no right to censor the video of this public event, and after internal consultations with its own lawyers, UCLA quickly reversed its position and one day later, posted the video and podcast of Mnuchin’s appearance.

SPJ/LA has repeatedly asked for an explanation and background material behind both UCLA’s initial decision to withhold publication of the video, and its reversal to allow the posting. Because UCLA declined to voluntarily provide the requested information, we were initially advised by Peggy McInerney, Director of Communications for the Burkle Center, on March 5, 2018 that we would have to submit a formal CPRA request to the office of UCLA Information Practices. That letter of request is attached. We received a boiler-plate letter 10 days later, on 3/16/18 (also attached), designating our request as PRR #18-5461

Since that time, we have received nothing but auto-generated emails every two months, not signed by any individual, telling us they have to revise the timetable because they “have not completed the requisite review.” It seems quite obvious to us that UCLA has no intention ever of completing it, and are hoping that we will simply give up and go away.

In September, we publicly complained after six months of total inaction by UCLA on our request.

In November, we contacted a prominent First Amendment and government transparency attorney who told us that UCLA, in functionally ignoring our CPRA request, “is grossly and unlawfully delinquent in its foot-dragging.”

He cited the pertinent Government Code Section in the CPRA as 6253 (c):

Each agency, upon a request for a copy of records, shall, within 10 days from receipt of the request, determine whether the request, in whole or in part, seeks copies of disclosable public records in the possession of the agency and shall promptly notify the person making the request of the determination and the reasons therefor.

In unusual circumstances, the time limit prescribed in this section may be extended by written notice by the head of the agency or his or her designee to the person making the request, setting forth the reasons for the extension and the date on which a determination is expected to be dispatched. No notice shall specify a date that would result in an extension for more than 14 days.

When the agency dispatches the determination, and if the agency determines that the request seeks disclosable public records, the agency shall state the estimated date and time when the records will be made available.

As used in this section, “unusual circumstances” means the following, but only to the extent reasonably necessary to the proper processing of the particular request:
(1) The need to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request.
(2) The need to search for, collect, and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records that are demanded in a single request.
(3) The need for consultation, which shall be conducted with all practicable speed, with another agency having substantial interest in the determination of the request or among two or more components of the agency having substantial subject matter interest therein.
(4) The need to compile data, to write programming language or a computer program, or to construct a computer report to extract data.
(d) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to permit an agency to delay or obstruct the inspection or copying of public records.

We have just received yet another robot email, dated 2/28/19, advising us that “we must revise the estimated availability date regarding your attached request, as the requisite review has not yet been completed.”

Our efforts to appeal to UCLA have been unavailing, and our patience is exhausted. We are now appealing to you, as the UC governing body, and to our local law enforcement agencies, the Los Angeles City Attorney and the Los Angeles District Attorney, in an effort to force UCLA to meet its statutory obligations to comply with the California Public Records Act and turn over the requested information without further delay.

Thank you for assistance and your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Joel Bellman
Ethics Committee Chair and Board Member
Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists

Attachments: SPJ/LA CPRA Request 3/5/18
UCLA Response 3/16/18

cc: Strefan Fauble, Deputy City Attorney, Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney
Alan Yochelson, Head Deputy, Public Integrity Division Los Angeles County District
Attorney’s Office

KNX 1070’s Frank Mottek to Serve as Master of Ceremonies for SPJ/LA’s Distinguished Journalists Awards Banquet

Journalist Frank Mottek, “the voice of business news in Los Angeles,” will be the master of ceremonies at the March 20 Distinguished Journalists Awards Banquet sponsored by the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The event, which will take place at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, honors journalists in print, broadcast and digital media.

An award-winning broadcast journalist with more than 30 years of experience, Mottek currently anchors the morning drive Money reports on KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO and hosts the one-hour business and consumer news program “Mottek On Money.” He provided daily coverage of the 2008 financial crisis, the Great Recession and stock market updates.

Since joining CBS in Los Angeles in 1992, Mottek served as reporter and anchor on KNX as well as business anchor on KCAL9-TV and spot reporter for KCBS-TV CBS2. For 10 years, he also worked as reporter and business news anchor on the KTLA Channel 5 News @ 10 and the KTLA Morning News.

He is frequently called to lead some of the highest-profile business discussions, including economic forecast events for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, the Milken Institute, UCLA Anderson School of Management, the Association for Corporate Growth, Los Angeles Business Journal and Southern California Association of Governments.

The Distinguished Journalist honorees are longtime regional journalists practicing in print, radio, television and digital media. They are: Rich Archbold, public editor of the Long Beach Press-Telegram; Steve Padilla, Column One editor and Metpro director of the Los Angeles Times; KFI-AM news editor Nicole M. Campbell; KMEX-TV Univision 34 news anchor, reporter and host Gabriela Teissier; and David Dayen, freelance journalist and author.

The Freedom of Information award will go to Scott Sanders, an attorney with the Orange County Public Defender’s Office.

The Distinguished Journalists Awards banquet will be held on Wednesday, March 20 at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. A no-host cocktail reception will begin at 6 p.m. Dinner will be served at 7 p.m.

Tickets for the event are:

  • $100 for SPJ/LA members
  • $140 for non-members
  • $80 for students
  • Tables of 10 are available for $1,000

Sponsorship opportunities are also available. The three levels of sponsorship are:

  • Platinum ($5,000): Acknowledgement in the banquet program, event signage, logo included on banquet website and in emails, one complimentary table at the event.
  • Gold ($2,500): Acknowledgement in the banquet program, logo included on banquet website and in emails, five complimentary tickets to the event.
  • Silver ($1,500): Acknowledgement in the banquet program, logo included on banquet website and in emails, two complimentary tickets to the event.You can also support SPJ/LA by purchasing an ad in the banquet program:
  • Full page ad inside program: $350
  • Half-page ad inside program: $250
  • Quarter-page ad inside program: $150 

    For details on sponsorship or to make a reservation, please contact Alice Walton at AliceMWalton@gmail.com or (310) 595-5612.

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SPJ/LA Announces 2019 Officers

For Immediate Use
Jan. 2, 2019
Contact: Navid Nonahal
spjlosangeles@gmail.com

The Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has elected its 2019 officers.

Stephanie Stassel Bluestein, the chapter’s current president and an associate professor of journalism at California State University, Northridge, began her third term on Jan. 1, 2019. Sarah Favot, freelance journalist, will serve a second year as vice president. Elizabeth Marcellino, a courts reporter for City News Service, will continue serving as treasurer, while Jason Lewis, newly-elected board member and publisher of Los Angeles Standard, will be secretary.

The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to promoting high standards of ethical behavior and encouraging the free practice of journalism. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. The Greater Los Angeles professional chapter was chartered 25 years later in 1934.

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SPJ/LA Announces Newly Elected Board Members

LOS ANGELES – The Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists elected seven members to serve three-year terms on the group’s 15-member board, beginning Jan. 1, 2019.

Carolina Garcia, recently retired editor of the Los Angeles Daily News who is now an adjunct professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and Jason Lewis, publisher of Los Angeles Standard, were newly elected to the board.

Five incumbents were re-elected. They are: Joel Bellman, freelance journalist; Stephanie Stassel Bluestein, associate professor of journalism at CSUN; Sarah Favot, freelance journalist; Navid Nonahal, freelance journalist; and David Zahnizer, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.

The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to promoting high standards of ethical behavior and encouraging the free practice of journalism. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. The Greater Los Angeles professional chapter was chartered 25 years later in 1934.