LeadAR Class 19 January 2022 Session Recap
For the January session, LeadAR Class 19 pivoted from a scheduled face-to-face session on public policy and media to a virtual session about the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and combating misinformation.
Thank you to our speakers for making the pivot possible. LeadAR's mock legislative session has been postponed to May 26-27.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Beth Walker, a deputy attorney general in the Arkansas Attorney General's Office, provided an overview of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act with definitions and examples of how the law would be applied.
The Arkansas FOIA is one of the most comprehensive and strongest open-records and open-meetings laws in the country. It allows the public (“citizens”) to inspect and receive copies of public records of governmental agencies unless the law makes an exception for them. The law also requires that most meetings of “governing bodies” be open to the public. (Download the 2020 FOIA handbook here.)
Walker outlined what is a public record: 1) Writings, sounds, electronic information, or videos that 2) are kept, and 3) constitute a record of performance or lack of performance of official functions. Examples include emails, job applications, personnel files, and some job evaluations.
“In general, all public records must be disclosed unless exempt,” she said.
The law states “all meetings, formal or informal, special or regular, of the governing bodies of all municipalities [and] counties…shall be public meetings.”
“In other words, all meetings are public meetings,” she said.
In response to a question about social gatherings outside of meetings, Walker shared a couple of Attorney General Office opinions on the subject. (Search Arkansas Attorney General Opinions here.)
- Not a “meeting” if discussion of government business at the social gathering is incidental and intermittent (Op.95-020)
- Probably not a “meeting” if governing body has no control over the conference, function, or proceeding (Op. 94-131)
Know Your News Source
Gwen Moritz, contributing editor at Arkansas Business Publishing Group, shared her insight and examples of straight news, biased news, opinion, and fake news.
“Straight news or hard news is ‘just the facts, ma’am’," she said.
Moritz said when big, unexpected news breaks, early reports are going to be incorrect or incomplete. She suggested people pay attention to media language such as “We are getting reports," or "We are seeking confirmation,” or “[News outlet] has learned."
In these instances, she said look for news outlets close to the incident, compare multiple sources, and beware of reflexive retweeting.
Biased news is not designed to inform or enlighten, Moritz said, but to confirm existing opinions and to create an affinity with the purveyor. She cautioned class members to be aware that sometimes news sources use accurate data but place the information in a graphic display or chart that is misleading.
The internet makes it cheap and easy to create sites that look like traditional local news when they are really created entirely to push a political bias, she said. It’s our job to pay attention. Moritz provided a link to a media bias chart as a resource to help people better understand where their preferred news outlets may fall when it comes to biases.
Next Moritz spoke about opinion pieces.
“Opinion is cheap. Reporting is expensive,” she said. Some news sites don’t really want people to distinguish between news and opinion. Moritz offered the Forbes website as an example, where a reader has to work hard to distinguish between a staff-written news report and submitted commentary.
Last, Moritz shared information about fake news. She presented that fake news is not a sloppy error, not merely biased, and not just something a politician does not like. She said fake news is intentional deception. She suggested a great rule of thumb is “the more you want to believe something outrageous, the more you need to check the source.”
LeadAR is a program designed to help Arkansans broaden their understanding of issues and opportunities facing our state and strengthen their ability to make a difference. For more information about LeadAR, visit the website or contact Robinson, email@example.com, or Lisa Davis, firstname.lastname@example.org.