The Society of Professional Journalists’ Legal Defense Fund has grantedOtterbein360.com and T & C Magazine $5,000 for legal defense to challenge the Otterbein Police Department’s restriction of access to incident reports at Otterbein University.
Student reporters have been unable to access campus police incident reports since 2011, when Otterbein’s security force became a police department. Prior to the conversion, the reports were available from city police. Now, the university claims that it is not subject to the Ohio Public Records Act since it is a private institution. Police only give students access to the log required to be published under the Clery Act, but this account is often out of date or lacking in mandatory information. Thus far, campus police have not provided reports that are standard of any other commissioned police department.
The restrictions have severely limited the depth of reporting of several occurrences problematic to the community: the police charged a former professor with sexual imposition of a student; removed a student from a university building, searched him and took him away in a police car with no report or reason given (the same student reported that he was threatened with retaliation if he talked about the incident); recorded an alleged rape on the crime report but would not tell a student reporter where the incident occurred. SPJ condemns the Otterbein Police Department for withholding information crucial to these student journalists’ job — informing their community.
“Hiding behind a technicality is shameful, and if I were a student, or parent of a student, I would demand the same transparency that is expected of public universities,” SPJ President David Cuillier said. “If the courts don’t agree, then I hope the Legislature enacts law that requires private universities to report crime openly, just as they do in Virginia, Oklahoma, Georgia and many other states.”
SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund collects and distributes contributions to aid journalists in defending the freedom of speech and press guaranteed by the First Amendment. The LDF Committee and the SPJ Board of Directors voted to support Otterbein360.com and T & C Magazine’s defense.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.
- Otterbein students get help for lawsuit (Columbus Dispatch)