Public records release prompts growing concerns over media card issuance
On April 13, two public records requests were sent to the Ohio State Highway Patrol/ Department of Public Safety as part of a discovery process being conducted by Ohioans For Concealed Carry. In addition to OFCC News Manager Chad Baus’ request, the Litigation Chair in OFCC’s Office of General Counsel, Ken Hanson, submitted a request for information on the rules regarding issuance of Ohio Public Information Officer (OPIO) State of Ohio News Media Credential Card.
OFCC can now report that both requests have been answered.
Judging from the information provided in response to Hanson’s request, it is clear the state is arbitrary and capricious in its determination of who obtains these press passes.
There are no background checks on applicants, no fingerprints required, and no social security number is requested. There are no training requirements, and there is no booklet from the state Attorney General on journalistic ethics. Applicants don’t have to be felony-free or drug-free for their lifetime. There seems to be no concern that applicants may have ever been institutionalized for mental health issues. When the card is issued, card-holders are ensured that their “personal data is encrypted”.
The only rule the office cited as being in force over the granting of the press passes is that the sponsoring organization appear in the Ohio News Media Directory. There is no other stated procedure for determining who obtains a press pass.
Attorney Ken Hanson’s immediate thought after reading of the perfunctory policy for card issuance was that “it sounds like the fox guarding the henhouse.”
He explained: “It is extraordinarily rare for a governmental agency to completely delegate eligibility determinations to a third party they have no relationship or control over. This policy acts to ensure that only mainstream media obtains the cards. By controlling the Media Directory, only mainstream media can determine who mainstream media is.”
This policy was applied to the application of OhioCCW.org News Manager Chad Baus, whose application was recently denied, with an explanation that no “freelance journalists” may receive the state-issued press pass. However, as the wealth of information from Baus’ request has revealed, this standard has not been applied throughout the history of the four-year-old program.
Over 2490 pages were released in response to Baus' request, and OFCC has only begun to process the information. Following are some initial observations:
Despite claims that no “freelance journalists” are given these press passes, records reveal that cards have been issued to:
The records also reveal that despite having been accused of or convicted of crimes, at least two former journalists’ credentials have not been revoked:
After scanning the application information, Baus noted the irony that while satellite truck drivers, advertising sales persons, and even secretaries have been given these cards with impunity, his own application was denied because he is not considered a “journalist” under the rules of the Department of Public Safety.
"It is clear that the state is being incredibly short-sighted in its discrimination against online media organizations," said Baus. “I am shocked by the arbitrary and capricious way in which these cards are given out, yet my own application was denied because I am not employed by a traditional brick-and-mortar media entity.
Two final (initial) observations:
OFCC was interested in obtaining these OPIO State of Ohio News Media Credential Card applications to review what the Ohio State Highway Patrol is doing to ensure that the "wrong" people aren’t getting these cards. It is clear that the answer is, they aren’t doing much at all.
Analysis of these public records is ongoing, and updates will be provided when warranted.