Ohio media credentials: How deep is the rabbit hole?

By Ken Hanson, Esq.
Litigation Chair, Office of General Counsel
Ohioans For Concealed Carry

In response to an article published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer a few weeks ago, Ohioans For Concealed Carry submitted public records requests to the Department of Safety/ Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) to obtain any and all information on who has applied for and been issued media credentials, officially called Ohio Public Information Officer (OPIO) cards.

By way of background, the OSHP has a program where they issue identity cards to Ohio media persons, on the theory that it will allow first responders to quickly identify "legitimate" media at emergency scenes. There is no statutory or administrative provision for the issuance of these cards, and, presumably, local law enforcement would be free to ignore the cards.

OhioCCW.org is a news medium. Chad Baus' duties as News Manager for OhioCCW.org include gathering, processing, transmitting, compiling, editing, and disseminating information for the general public. As such, Baus applied for a State of Ohio News Media Credential, or OPIO card. His application became one of only three denials the state has apparently ever issued.

In the wake of the Plain Dealer story, the initial concern was that the office that handles the applications for these cards had obviously tipped off the newspaper that a member of OFCC had applied for media credentials. This is clearly inappropriate behavior on the part of the OSHP.

While the Plain Dealer reporter assumed that the purpose of the application was to obtain access to the CHL lists (a card would not be needed for this, and OFCC counts among its members those who already have OPIO cards), the true benefit in this exercise has been to uncover the duplicity involved.

The OSHP "procedure" for processing these applications is basically two sentences. Make sure the application is completely filled out, and make sure the applicant appears in a commercial media directory. The procedure explicitly states no free-lance journalists or internet-only organizations.

There is no provision for checking criminal histories. There is no provision for renewal. There is no provision for revocation. There is no provision for appeal. There is no provision that would provide for the revocation of the credentials of former WCPO 9News (Cincinnati) reporter Stephen A. Hill, who is currently serving a 5-year sentence for sexual offenses involving teenage boys. In short, there are no procedural safeguards at all.

When clamoring for the media access loophole, a provision in Ohio law which allows journalists to access the private information of Ohio Concealed Handgun License-holders, the media insisted it was necessary to make sure the wrong people were not getting licenses. But closer to home, it is perfectly OK for the media to receive credentials with no oversight whatsoever. In fact, based upon the Patrol's "procedures", Ohio's media has insured that they alone will control who is eligible for these credentials, as only "mainstream" media will appear in their self-published media directories.

Would the Ohio media sit still for a second and allow the insurance industry to decide who gets insurance licenses, without any provision for check or balance, or any semblance of due process? In what other area of state activity does the "regulated" party control the entire process?

Yet when it comes to media credentials in Ohio, if you're a member of the club already, you're eligible. If you are not, tough luck. In fact, the OSHP will even tip off the club that there was an attempted gate crashing.

OFCC has obtained copies of every application submitted for OPIO cards. These applications contain all sorts of personal information about the applicant, from height and weight to hair and eye color. Many contain home addresses. A photograph accompanies each application. We will be eagerly reviewing and using this information in the near future to make sure that the wrong sorts of people are not receiving credentials.

Interested persons are encouraged to visit OhioCCW.org often as we unravel these records. It is our hope that this government program has not been abused, but an initial review of the applications indicates that perhaps the OSHP isn't even following their own minimalist "procedures."

But then again, the mainstream media has already anointed themselves the judges of what is or isn't in the public's best interest. Why should state-issued press credentials be any different?

Related Stories:
Public records release prompts growing concerns over media card issuance

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