L.A. journalists call on UCLA to post censored video of treasury secretary’s campus appearance, seek public records behind decision to suppress recording

The Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists today called on UCLA Chancellor Gene Block to reverse a recent decision to not to post a video recording of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s campus appearance on February 26, 2018.

UCLA and the Treasury Department had a prior agreement to post the video of Mnuchin’s delivery of the annual Arnold C. Harberger Lecture at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, as was done with previous lectures, but Mnuchin later withdrew his prior consent after the program turned rowdy and several hecklers had to be removed.

The website for the public-radio program Marketplace, whose host Kai Ryssdal moderated the discussion with Mnuchin, subsequently posted an edited transcript and the full recorded audio.

In its letter to UCLA, SPJ/LA noted that the university is a public institution, hosting a public event involving a public official speaking on matters of public interest, and was under no legal obligation to comply with a federal government request to suppress the online publication of an official record of such an event.

A UCLA official told SPJ/LA that while there was no formal agreement with Mnuchin’s office, there was a clear understanding that the video would be posted on the sponsoring Burkle Center website after the event, as the Center customarily does with all public events. The official said this was the first time to her knowledge UCLA was asked not to post a video of an event after its conclusion.

Copies of the letter to Chancellor Block and the CPRA request are attached.

March 7, 2018

Society of Professional Journalists
Greater Los Angeles Chapter
210 W. Temple Street, 18th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Chancellor Gene Block
UCLA Office of the Chancellor
2147 Murphy Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095

Dear Chancellor Block,

As president of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, I am writing on behalf of my membership to express our concern over, and disagreement with, UCLA’s recent decision not to post a video recording of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s recent appearance on February 26, 2018 at UCLA for the Arnold C. Harberger Lecture at the UCLA International Institute, which was sponsored by the Burkle Center For International Relations.

Despite a clear prior understanding that UCLA was granted permission to post this video of a public appearance by a public official at a public institution on matters of public interest, Secretary Mnuchin withdrew his consent after the event, and to the best of our knowledge, UCLA readily acquiesced with little or no resistance.

Further, we were informed by a UCLA representative that there was no formal written agreement about posting the video, which means that Secretary Mnuchin had not been legally granted veto authority over the posting, nor would UCLA face any legal exposure for violating terms of a contractual agreement that did not exist.

SPJ/LA believes it sets a very bad precedent for a public university, which has expressly dedicated itself to the values of academic excellence and civic engagement, instead to permit government officials overly sensitive to appearances to constrain academic debate and deny public engagement by effectively censoring UCLA’s online publication of the record of a public event held on campus. UCLA’s decision seems particularly absurd in light of the fact that Marketplace, the public radio program hosted by Kai Ryssdal, who moderated Secretary Mnuchin’s discussion, has already posted the full audio recording on the program’s own website. How can UCLA do any less?

It is disheartening and inexplicable that UCLA would so readily submit to such an inappropriate action by a federal official. I respectfully ask that you reconsider and reverse UCLA’s decision and in the name of transparency and accountability publish online the video recording of Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s appearance.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Bluestein, President
Greater Los Angeles Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists

March 7, 2018

Society of Professional Journalists
Greater Los Angeles Chapter
210 W. Temple Street, 18th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Ms. Peggy Mcinerny
Director of Communications
UCLA International Institute
10270 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, California 90095-1487

RE: Public Records Act Request

Dear Ms. Mcinerny,

Pursuant to my rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.), I ask to obtain a copy of the following, which I understand to be held by your agency:

Any and all written correspondence, digital and hard copy, between the members of representatives of the UCLA International Institute, the Burkle Center for International Relations, or any other relevant UCLA departments and member or representatives of the U.S. Treasury Department or any other federal agency, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin himself, regarding authorization and related decision-making concerning the on-line posting by UCLA of a video or any other recording of the public appearance and delivery of the Arnold C. Harberger Lecture by Secretary Mnuchin on the UCLA campus on Monday, February 26, 2018.

I am requesting such correspondence generated and received within the time-frame of March 1, 2017 and March 2, 2018.

I ask for a determination on this request within 10 days of your receipt of it, and an even prompter reply if you can make that determination without having to review the record[s] in question.

I would not ordinarily trouble you with this written request, but when I first made it informally, you directed me instead to file a formal request under the California Public Records Act.

If you determine that any or all or the information qualifies for an exemption from disclosure, I ask you to note whether, as is normally the case under the Act, the exemption is discretionary, and if so whether it is necessary in this case to exercise your discretion to withhold the information.

If you determine that some but not all of the information is exempt from disclosure and that you intend to withhold it, I ask that you redact it for the time being and make the rest available as requested.

In any event, please provide a signed notification citing the legal authorities on which you rely if you determine that any or all of the information is exempt and will not be disclosed.

If I can provide any clarification that will help expedite your attention to my request, please contact me at <bellman>. Because this information should be available electronically, you should not incur any duplication costs.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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

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