Prof. Kent Middleton answers questions about the student daily at the University of Georgia, the Red and Black.

Chinese Professors and Officials from Xi'an Discuss Open Records and Open Meetings

Open records, open meetings and journalism education in the United States were the focus of a two-hour discussion in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in May between a Chinese delegation from Xi'an and Grady journalism faculty members.

The session was organized by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College, for the Xi'an delegation visiting the United States as part of a two-week study tour. The delegation was made up of 11 professors of public administration and eight city administrators.

Prof. Kent Middleton, head of the Department of Journalism in the Grady College, outlined for the group what he considers to be the characteristics of strong open records laws in the United States. Such laws require government officials to make public records of their activities.

Included on the list of characteristics of strong open records laws is the "presumption of openness," a broad definition of records to include digital as well as traditional records, and stipulations on the time allowed to elapse between the request for the information and its release. A strong law also allows for judicial review of the administrative decision and penalties for noncompliance, Dr. Middleton told the group.

Several in the Chinese delegation indicated that they were feeling increased pressure in their country to make records available to the public. Some indicated that they were not entirely pleased with this development. Dr. Middleton indicated that such a sentiment was shared by many government officials in the United States.

Dr. Middleton, an expert on open records and open meetings laws in the state of Georgia and on media law generally, told the group that there is no "First Amendment right to the access of information." Such a right comes about as a result state and federal legislation, Dr. Middleton said.

Dr. Lee B. Becker, Cox Center Director and a professor in the Department of Journalism, outlined for the group the history of journalism education in the United States and at the University of Georgia. Included was a discussion of self-regulation of journalism education via accreditation.

Dr. Becker emphasized that "everyone has the right to be a journalist in the United States. There are no formal requirements and no certification," he said. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitute prohibits such restrictions on the work of journalists, he explained.

The 19 Chinese visitors were visiting the University of Georgia at the invitation of the International Center for Democratic Governance (ICDG), a unit of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.

IDCG conducted a three-week training program for government officials in Xi'an in 2001. In addition to the University of Georgia, the Chinese group was to visit city officials in the city of Athens, home to the university, and in Dalton and Atlanta, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The group also was to visit Washington, D.C.

At the University of Georgia the Chinese visited with other academic programs and learned about the University's public service and outreach offices.

Following the discussions in the Grady College, the group toured the College facilities to see where students in the college take their courses in journalism, public relations, advertising and telecommunications.