Assistant Attorney General Gives In-and-Outs of Open Privacy

By Shawn Dullye

Chris Schulz spoke to Texas State students during Mass Comm Week about privacy laws referring to government documents and private interest. And for those of you who aren’t taking media law, that means discussing what documents the public can and cannot request the government to make public.

Schulz started out by asking students “How much do you think Mack Brown’s annual salary is?” Mack Brown is the University of Texas‘ football coach, and apparently he makes $5 million a year, though only a small portion is his actual UT paid salary, the rest comes from annual and salary bonuses, appearances, and sponsorships. As interesting as the answer was, Schulz then asked the students how they thought he knew that, hence, the entire point of the discussion. The public merely has to send in a request to government or government-funded agencies, and said organization must respond within 10 working days stating why or why not the documents will be released.

“I’ve been curious about the Freedom of Information Act and how that information is requested and it was good to finally get some clarification on the issue,” said Joe Doyle, electronic media senior.

Being the assistant attorney general, it’s Schulz’s job to analyze the public’s requests and the agencies’ denials and decide whether or not the public interest outweighs the privacy of the documents. Schulz then gave many real-world examples and asked students if they thought the documents should be released. One interesting example was that when it comes to the accusation of sexual harassment, the accusers name can not be released, but the accused person’s name can be.

Law is not always considered the most exciting part of the communications industry, but Schulz proves how crucial knowing one’s way around privacy interests and government documents can be to a journalist, and gives us the tools to access them.

Rebecca Eller, an electronic media major, said of Schulz’s presentation:

“I like the examples, they helped me understand what information is considered private and what is public.”

Photo by Shawn Dullye

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