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SPJ gives Utah national “Black Hole Award” for egregious anti-transparency law


For Immediate Release:

David Cuillier, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chairman, (520) 626-9694,
Tom Haraldsen, SPJ Utah Chapter President, (801) 671-5595,
Scott Leadingham, SPJ Communications Director, (317) 927-8000 ext. 211,

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is giving its Black Hole Award for 2011 to the Utah Legislature and Governor Gary Herbert for plunging their state into an abyss of secrecy never before seen in modern times. In celebrating national Sunshine Week, March 13-19, SPJ also named five runners-up for the national “dis-honor” to highlight particularly heinous violations of the public's right to know.

SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee selected Utah's governor and legislature as the recipients because of extreme changes to its public records law rushed through this month in a mockery of the legislative process. See the related SPJ statement here.

On Tuesday, March 8, Herbert signed into law HB477, which will take effect July 1. The legislation makes major changes to the state Government Records Access and Management Act, including:

• Expansive and arbitrary copy fees for search time, redaction, administrative overhead and legal review that will price citizens out of their government.
• A requirement that people must prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence that a public record should be public; every other state requires the government to prove it should be secret.
• Exemptions keeping a wide swath of electronic records secret, including text messages and other correspondence of officials, allowing government to communicate in secret.

SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chairman David Cuillier will be in Salt Lake City Wednesday, March 16, to present the Black Hole Award.
• Award presentation: Cuillier will present a black wreath on the front steps of the state Capitol building at 2 p.m. Lawmakers are invited to show up to accept the award, and media are invited.
• Rally: Cuillier will speak at an HB477 rally at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Salt Lake City Main Library, lower level rooms A&B, 210 E. 400 South, hosted by the Utah Society of Professional Journalists and League of Women Voters.

Additionally, Cuillier has written a column on the topic, and it is available for re-publishing in print or online. The text is available here.

Freedom of information experts from around the country said the results of the legislation will instead make the state the most secretive in the nation, positioning Utah as more closed than most nations, including Mexico and Albania, and lead to increased corruption and government malfeasance at the expense of taxpayers.

“This is by far the most anti-democratic secrecy legislation we have ever seen in recent history,” SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chairman David Cuillier said. “This isn't about protecting privacy of citizens or saving tax dollars. This is about hiding shady dealings to protect the privacy of officials so they can fool the public without recourse.”

SPJ strongly urges the Utah Legislature to not only rescind this legislation, but create constitutional guarantees similar to other states that mandate transparency and accountability.

Runners up for the SPJ Black Hole Award are:

• Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services for hiding records involving the death of a child in its care.
• University of Maryland for pricing people out of their government through exorbitant copy fees, preventing students from finding out the extent of sexual assault on campus.
• Fairfax County (Va.) Police Department for hiding the identities of police officers who kill people.
• CIA and Attorney General Eric Holder for allowing the flagrant destruction of records simply because they embarrass the government.
• Broward County (Fla.) School Board for keeping such poor records that people can't tell what it's doing.

SPJ’s national Black Hole Award began this year to highlight government agencies or officials that flagrantly violate the letter or spirit of public record or meeting laws. The award, handed out for national Sunshine Week March 13-19, is selected by the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee based on nominations received from journalists, citizens and public-interest groups. It was inspired by the work of the Utah Headliners, the state’s SPJ chapter, which gives its own state Black Hole Award.

For more details about the award and its recipients, see www.spj.org/blackhole.asp.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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