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Reporter improperly barred from meeting open to general public

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    NMU         MARYLAND    

    NMU         MARYLAND         Freedom of Information         Sep 20, 1999    

Reporter improperly barred from meeting open to general public

  • A prison Commissioner said press attendance at a community meeting would “frustrate” the goal of freely discussing the escape of two prisoners

A state review board ruled in mid-August that the Citizens Advisory Committee for Corrections Institutions violated the Open Meetings Act when it denied a Maryland Gazette reporter access to an otherwise public meeting held to discuss the recent escape of two prisoners from a Jessup correctional facility.

The June 3 meeting had been advertised throughout the Jessup area as an open meeting, and the public was invited to attend. A Gazette reporter, however, was not allowed into the meeting and was told the meeting was open only to community members. The Gazette subsequently complained to the Open Meetings Compliance Board.

The Commissioner of Corrections, William Sondervan, said he had ordered the meeting closed to the press so the public and officials from the Division of Correction could speak freely about the escape and the Division’s remedial efforts.

“The presence of the media at the meeting would have tended to frustrate these goals,” Sondervan told the Compliance Board.

The Compliance Board said in its ruling that the Open Meetings Act recognizes that the media act as representatives for the public and have the same right to attend an open meeting as an ordinary citizen would. The act, the Compliance Board said, intended open meetings to be open to everyone.

“This assumption reflects our country’s longstanding recognition that the press plays a vital role in ensuring public awareness of government activities,” the Compliance Board said in its opinion.

(Compliance Board Opinion No. 99-11)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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