Open meetings of governmental organizations are an integral part of the transparency that is required for a people to understand what their representatives are doing. Any action closing these meetings without proper cause is a direct threat to any democratic system.
Because many citizens cannot make it personally to these meetings to see what their representatives are doing, they rely on the press to relay information and news that is relevant.
These principles apply to all forms of government, from federal all the way down to student.
In fact, it is even written in North Carolina state law that each official meeting of a public body shall be made open to the public, unless an appropriate exception to this law is cited to close the meeting. That same law includes elected or appointed authorities or committees in schools within the UNC System.
On Tuesday the Student Senate Committee on Government Relations and Oversight ruled to enter a closed session and remove all members of the public, including reporters from Technician.
Those journalists were members of our staff and they were covering the impeachment hearing of the treasurer for the NC State student body, the same student body that the senators who removed the press have taken an oath to serve.
When asked for specific reasoning as to why they were being removed, Technician reporters were given the reason of “precedence” by Assistant Vice Chancellor Justine Hollingshead, a Student Government adviser. No acceptable reason under North Carolina law was cited for the expulsion.
What these senators did was not in accordance with North Carolina open meeting law, and even if there is precedence for this practice, that does not make this or any of the previous removals any more acceptable.
After asking for reasoning to no avail, our reporters were escorted out of the Senate chamber by the sergeant-at-arms.
In barring members of the press and all students who were not senators from their deliberations, these senators have directly impeded important information from getting to the student body.
The committee deliberated and voted, reducing the charges against the treasurer, all behind closed doors.
Not only are these elected senators directly halting information from being distributed to the students of NC State, they are directing questions to be answered by an adviser, rather than answering themselves.
Technician has not always been totally devoted to holding members of Student Government accountable, but that has changed.
Members of the student press will not be strong-armed into complying with what anyone aside from us and the law deem necessary. We will also not listen to any person or organization who attempts to tell us what our readers deserve to know. That decision is for us to make, and us alone. We don’t set the meeting agendas or decide what is important for Student Government to do; our only job is to report on it.
I want there to be a positive working relationship with the members of this committee, Justine Hollingshead and all members of Student Government, and I believe that will be achieved as long as we are allowed to do our jobs.
A major threat to a democratic system is for decision and policy making to occur out of public view. While I know that this instance is not the end of the democratic process at NC State, I am committed to ensuring that this does not become a trend and that the students of our university always have access to the news they need.
For more on this, read Technician’s news coverage of Tuesday’s Government Relations and Oversight Committee meeting.