Logan City’s new media policy is getting mixed reviews. A media law attorney has weighed in on the new policy which requires the media to submit questions in writing in order to get information from city employees. On KVNU’s For the People program Thursday, Jeff Hunt said if this was done in retaliation for something the media has done it could be a violation of the First Amendment. “Even aside from the First Amendment, you put aside the legal issue, it’s just troubling to me on a public policy level that the information would be restricted in this manner,” Hunt said. “The public really relies on the news media to provide timely information. “It’s really difficult for me to see how you can implement this policy with respect to the police department, in cases of emergencies, like the recent canal incident up there. You need to get information out to the public very quickly. You don’t have time to deal with written submissions and written responses.” Hunt says the new policy ignores the reality of the way reporters interact with government officials to get news and information to the public in a timely manner. Critics of Logan City’s new media policy are especially concerned about getting information from the police department in a timely manner, especially when emergencies occur. Officials say a written response will be given in a timely manner, usually within 24 hours. New Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen says he does not expect the new policy to change the way things are done in his department and defended its implementation. “It allows us to review requests and it allows us to visit the issue from the standpoint of reporting,” Jensen says, “making sure that we have all the information that is applicable to the request at hand, to visit with perhaps supervisors, or perhaps other people that might be involved. It might include legal, it might include the mayor. “It is a more comprehensive approach to gathering and disseminating information, in my opinion.” On KVNU’s Crosstalk show Thursday, Jensen was asked if he feels the new policy is a good idea. He said it’s the direction the city’s executive committee has decided to go in an effort to be better at what it does and he hopes it can be viewed at that level. Jensen says he hopes it won’t have the appearance of being negative or singling any media group out. Logan Municipal Councilmember and attorney Herm Olsen says he was surprised to learn Wednesday night that Mayor Randy Watts had enacted the new policy for city employees’ interactions with the news media. Olsen says he feels the action was, “a bit of a mistake” and he would have told the mayor that if he had consulted him. Olsen says he fears the new policy won’t be helpful and if the mayor has a change of mind it would be better to change the policy sooner rather than later. Olsen says the mayor probably wants to avoid embarrassment but trying to control the media is probably not the best way to accomplish that. The new policy is not going over well with Ted Pease, a journalism professor in the Department of Journalism and Communications at Utah State University. Pease calls the policy “wrong-headed.” On KVNU’s For the People program Thursday, Pease said the policy claims the city will use “common sense” in evaluating when questions are routine and can be answered verbally and when they require more thought and input from other city personnel. Pease asks, “whose common sense are we talking about?” He also says this may be a First Amendment issue. “But certainly confusion could ensue from this,” Pease continued. “And the bottom line is whether the information the average citizen needs to function, to make judgments in elections, to understand civic issues that may affect their lives, are they getting all the information they need to make their own judgments? “It is not, in my view, the responsibility of elected public officials to decide what I, as a citizen, need to know and what I don’t need to know.” Pease says if journalists are writing stories that make public officials uncomfortable they are probably just doing the job they are hired to do. He says sometimes it’s hard for public officials to see it that way and they want to close that media down.
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