Media’s right to private records

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When a reporter asks for records from a state agency to share with the public, is that part of their research and are they allowed access to those private records? That’s at the center of a case before a three-judge panel right now. Investigative journalist Amy Silverman and the Arizona Daily Star are collaborating on an investigative report into the Department of Economic Security’s (DES) handling of allegations of sexual abuse of vulnerable adults.

Silverman and her First Amendment attorney, Gregg Leslie, joined Arizona Horizon to discuss the case and its implications on the law and the public.

Silverman became alerted to the possibility that the DES was not properly handling reported sexual abuses, and that’s how her investigation began. She attempted a public records request to see the sexual complaints that had been filed but was denied.

“Everybody seems to agree these records should be public in some circumstances. That privacy interest is overwhelming, and everybody agrees you need some protection in there. But in this particular case, they said, “You know, it should be open to bona fide researchers, people who are actually doing that kind of work, to hold the agency accountable,” said Leslie.

There is legal dispute over whether or not a journalist qualifies as a bona fide researcher, but Leslie argued that if the term is not specified, then journalists absolutely meet that requirement. Silverman and Leslie won their case in front of the Arizona Court of Appeals, and now it will either go to the state supreme court or back to trial court.

“If it’s not bona fide research, then what have I been doing for the last 32 years?” asked Silverman.

Amy Silverman, Journalist
Gregg Leslie, Attorney

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