A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists


By Quill

Texas city sues over disclosure order

The city of Austin, Texas, is suing state Attorney General Greg Abbott over his order that Austin must comply with a University of Texas student newspaper request. The request is for information about surveillance cameras within the city.

The Jan. 27 lawsuit, filed in Travis County district court, is the second lawsuit over this issue in less than two weeks. The attorney general was sued by the University of Texas on Jan. 15, in opposition to an order that the university must disclose all information about surveillance cameras on campus.

Information about location, recording hours and technical specifications of surveillance cameras – and how much money was spent on them – was requested by The Daily Texan last October.

David Smith, chief of litigation in the city of Austin legal department, said that that only part of the request is being challenged by the city. He went on to say that a law enforcement role that is exempted from open-records laws is involved, and that cameras are used in “vulnerability assessments” within the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act.

Minneapolis mayor muzzles police officers

Police officers in Minneapolis, Minn., were ordered to seek permission from City Hall before speaking to reporters. The order from Mayor R.T. Rybak later was rescinded, but officers still must alert City Hall when the media questions city or police policy, an officer’s conduct, or when an officer has been involved in a shooting. Officers will still be able to provide other information at crime scenes.

Revisions to the decision came during a meeting prompted by the mayor’s previous note, which angered many and caused the Police Department spokeswoman to resign.

Cyndi Barrington, the Police Department spokeswoman, resigned after receiving the memo, which stated her job would fall under the communications department.

Rybak, who beat incumbent Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton in November 2001, is an Internet consultant and community activist. He has also worked as a Star Tribune reporter, and was publisher of the Twin Cities Reader, an alternative weekly that folded in 1997.

Journalists converge on front to find themselves on sidelines

Although the military has promised the media that it will be up front for any U.S. troop movements in a war with Iraq, many journalists are watching the military buildup in the Middle East from afar.

In Kuwait, thousands of new Army and Marine Corps troops arrive every day to pitch more tents in the desert. The media may have covered their tearful farewells en masse at home bases, but few have received regular access in the desert.

Since 1998, two U.S. air bases in Kuwait have been off limits to all media coverage. Bases in Saudi Arabia, where no-fly missions are launched by the Air Force over Iraq, and Qatar, where any future operations in the Persian Gulf will be headquartered, allow only limited and select media access to servicemen and women.

The military continues to promise that coverage, which has been guarded and restricted by the Pentagon so far, will be more tolerated in the event of a war with Iraq.