Journalism group chides U of M Regents over KSTP probe

The Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has had its squabbles with KSTP TV over the years, notably in issuing a condemnation of the notorious Pointergate story in 2014.

But the journalism group is standing foursquare with KSTP in the face of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents search for the anonymous leaker of information to the TV station.

KSTP reported earlier this month, citing anonymous sources, that an official in the athletics department is under investigation for sexual harassment.

The Board of Regents has encouraged KSTP to name the leaker.

To its credit, KSTP has said “no.”

And that’s the way it should be, the SPJ said in a statement posted by SPJ-MN president and KARE 11 video journalist Ben Garvin today.

The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists defends the right of KSTP-TV and its journalists to pursue the truth and report it. In that pursuit, KSTP has relied on confidential sources to shine a light on sexual harassment allegations at the University of Minnesota. Minnesota law protects the rights of journalists to keep their sources confidential as part of the Free Flow of Information Act.

The university’s investigation to seek the identity of the confidential source goes against the spirit of the Free Flow of Information Act and will have a chilling effect on those whistleblowers who seek to expose wrongdoing and those journalists who report it.

We urge the university to drop its investigation of KSTP’s confidential sources, abide by the spirit of the Free Flow of Information Act and concentrate on the serious problems of sexual harassment allegations at the University of Minnesota.

(h/t: Fred Melo)

Update 2:12 p.m. – Regents response:

At the University of Minnesota, there is no place for sexual misconduct. We care deeply about the students, faculty, and staff who are significantly affected by this type of destructive behavior. And we are absolutely committed to preventing and responding strongly to all forms of sexual misconduct.

In fact, the Board’s concern about a potential leak of confidential information related to recent allegations on our campus exists because we care about combatting sexual misconduct. The University has processes in place to investigate allegations fully, allow all parties to respond, and give managers information needed to make decisions. Reporters of misconduct need assurance of how the University will handle their sensitive information and concerns. Accused students and employees need assurance that the University will follow its confidentiality policies while their conduct is being evaluated.

The line governing the University is shaped by law, not Board discretion. Privacy laws control what can be disclosed and when. Employment cases, for example, involve private personnel data protected by law during the pendency of an employment process. Do not misread the University’s respect for those laws as a sign that we have misplaced priorities on the issue of sexual misconduct. For all concerned to trust that allegations of misconduct will be addressed firmly, honestly, and in a fair manner, we must respect confidentiality at all levels of the University.

The Board of Regents is examining whether the University is honoring its legal and fiduciary responsibilities. The Board fully appreciates the First Amendment reasons why the media wishes to protect its sources, and has no intention of challenging its journalistic choice. Those principles, however, do not excuse or give license to University officials to breach their legal duties by disclosing matters to the media that the law directs should be kept private while decisions are pending.

Dean E. Johnson, Chair
David J. McMillan, Vice Chair

(h/t: Peter Cox)