Utah Transit Authority backs off attempt to make writing about records denial criminal

Only in Utah, where legislators earned a Black Hole award for attempting to gut the state’s open records law, would a bureaucrat attempt to criminalize talking about a records denial.

The Salt Lake Tribune is challenging the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), which operates a bus and train system serving Salt Lake and Utah counties, for holding back crime statistics. The Tribune is seeking data about crimes that have occurred on the transit system as part of an ongoing series about crime trends in Salt Lake County. Fifteen other agencies have complied.

The Tribune reports that the transit authority, in its response to the paper’s appeal to the State Records Committee, not only wants its denial of the request upheld, but it also wants the paper and its reporters sanctioned for allegedly violating Utah Code 76-8-104, which says a person is guilty of a class A misdemeanor “if he threatens any harm to a public servant, party official, or voter with a purpose of influencing his action, decision, opinion, recommendation, nomination, vote or other exercise of discretion.”

The authority claimed that a Tribune reporter threatened to write a negative story if the records were not turned over.

When Tribune columnist Paul Rolly contacted the authority, he was told that it was a misunderstanding, that the attorney who drafted the response to the appeal was reacting emotionally. Rolly was told by transit authority officials that the authority was not alleging criminal conduct by the paper or its journalists.

Rolly said that Tribune reporter Lee Davidson said he never threatened a UTA spokesman with bad press for not providing the records. He told the spokesman that he would have to write that the UTA was not providing the records, Rolly reported.

The records committee, which cannot issue criminal sanctions anyway, will hear the Tribune’s case Thursday.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Newest Posts

Open season on journalists in Paraguay December 19, 2014, 8:55 pm
Ohio passes bill clouding execution process December 18, 2014, 7:23 pm
Cuba opens its door to U.S. journalists, but be careful December 17, 2014, 7:35 pm
Congratulations to Julie Asher, December Volunteer of the Month December 17, 2014, 2:51 pm
Adding Study Abroad to a Journalism Curriculum December 14, 2014, 6:43 pm
NorCal SPJ chapter fights for sunshine in San Francisco December 12, 2014, 2:21 am
Stop ignoring Instagram December 11, 2014, 10:38 pm

Copyright © 2007-2014 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ