The watchdog carefully peruses the horizon for any sign that something is amiss. His sidekick stands at the ready to aide him in his quest for truth. The monster lies silently in his den awaiting his evening meal. He is mighty and strong, but bows to the will of his master.
A fairy tale story about quests and monsters? Not really, rather a cute analogy for the journalist, the attorney and the government. There’s no magic in journalism, only long hard hours spent combing records and interviewing sources. It isn’t a glamourous job, but somebody’s gotta do it. A little piece of legislation known as the F.O.I.A. is one of the resources that makes a journalists job just a little bit easier.
What is a F.O.I.A. anyway? It is the Freedom Of Information Act, a federal law that allows newspapers to do their job, and it is what Scott Glogovac, a Reno attorney, helps the Reno Gazette Journal navigate when problems arise with obtaining information from the government.
Scott Glogovac sees journalism from his perspective as an attorney. When he gets involved, it isn’t a positive sign and says his role is to help with news gathering and access. His participation is usually required when a government agency has shown institutional resistance in providing information or documents that fall within F.O.I.A.’s realm.
“It’s amazing how much blowback the newspaper gets for wanting information,” said Glogovac. The F.O.I.A. has 3 principles that help reporters carryout their most important role as a journalist- the watchdog. The three principles are the public records law, the open meeting law, and the First Amendment.
Public records law: according to NRS 239.010 (http://www.leg.state.nv.us/nrs/nrs-239.html) in short any public record or book of a governmental entity that are not otherwise deemed confidential are subject to inspection by any citizen during normal office hours. Well that’s great news, right? Until you run into the governments claim of confidentiality. A journalists nemisis. This is when attorney’s like Scott Glogovac come to the aide of a journalist. It is also his responsibility to reign in a gungho journalist determined to get the story at any cost. His job is to break any bad news about public versus confidential information and whether or not the journalist will be able and has a right to access it.
The open meeting law NRS 241(http://www.leg.state.nv.us/nrs/nrs-241.html): again pertaining to a governmental entity, is any meeting of a governmental entity must be open and available to the public and a documented record of it unless it is a social function in which no business is discussed, they are receiving legal advice, or they are discussing employee competency unless it is a head person.
Finally, the First Amendment: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment01/ “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”
It is Scott Glogovac’s assertion that with these 3 tools, there is no reason the media can’t cover just about anything. It’s possible, he says, that a few of the reasons journalists can sometimes have trouble obtaining the information that they are legally entitled to are because the government has a natural desire to fly under the radar, staff can feel put out by having to abide by these rules, and media can be seen as being unfair to government agencies. The premise is this: “You only want information because it’s a hit piece,” or “if you’re nosing around, you must be on to something.”
Journalists and Attorney’s – what a pair. Without the watchdog and his sidekick, the government would run amuck. And the people at a loss for how to control the rearing monster.