Protection of the First Amendment and freedom of information battles were foremost on the agenda of the Society of Professional Journalists board of directors at its semi-annual meeting.
At its April 27th meeting in Indianapolis, the board approved grants totaling $5,456.33 from its Legal Defense Fund. Funding includes: a continued challenge to the Communications Decency Act by Baker & Hostetler, the Society's First Amendment counsel; and a grant to defray the costs of the legal battle of Micaila Choo, a former Brigham Young University broadcast student whose gang documentary was subpoenaed by Salt Lake City officials. Choo fought, with the help of an SPJ recommended attorney, to protect her sources, but eventually felt she had to turn over the tapes after removing some of the identifying information.
On the national level, the board voted to affiliate the Society as an associate member of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. SPJ supports the organization's dedication to forming and supporting FOI coalitions in all 50 states. Many individual SPJ members are already active in the program and the Society is committed to helping the organization succeed in involving journalists and the public in the fight for freedom of information.
"Freedom of information has always been a cornerstone of SPJ," said Kelly Hawes, president of the Society. "It has never been more important to let our state and national leaders know that we unequivocally support freedom of speech and information. It's particularly important that SPJ becomes more involved with the public and other groups that share our interest in freedom of information and the First Amendment. Our association with the FOI Coalition offers us this opportunity."
In other freedom of information actions, the board awarded its prestigious First Amendment Awards to two deserving individuals. Michele Ames, editor of The Minnesota Daily, received the award in recognition of her stand for the rights of the press. Ames was cited for contempt of court and fined $250 for her refusal to release her paper's unpublished photographs of a disturbance at a rally at the University of Minnesota. Richard Angelico also received an award for his continuing efforts on behalf of the First Amendment. Angelico is appealing a contempt charge he faces after angering Harry Connick Sr., New Orleans district attorney. Connick was upset after Angelico ran a story concerning missing Kennedy assassination documents.
"It is important that we recognize the contributions of these two individuals," said Hawes. "While these awards can't reverse the difficulties and hardships they have faced, we offer them with heartfelt thanks for their refusal to compromise and their support of the highest standard of journalism-the truth."
In other action, the board approved the charters of four new chapters: the Middle Georgia professional chapter and Appalachian State, Lincoln Collegiate and Lorain City Community College student chapters. Provisional chapter status was granted to Marist College, the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg and Weber State University. The board also approved a $1.7 million fiscal 1997 budget that begins Aug. 1. The budget includes the addition of a 10th issue of Quill magazine and more support for local chapters.
"By investing in our chapters, we're investing in SPJ's future," said Greg Christopher, executive director of the Society. "In addition to focusing on our continuing national efforts in the areas of FOI and professional development, we are at a point where we can make substantial investments in SPJ's core--our local chapters. These internal investments will make us a stronger, better organization for our members and the industry."
Some of the expanded chapter-related items in the budget include: two additional issues of The Leader, SPJ's newsletter for chapter leaders; increased chapter communications; the continuation of the chapter grant program and Leader Retreat; and other measures aimed at increasing the resources for local chapters.