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AGO 1953 No. 57 - May 28, 1953
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

MEETINGS ‑- PUBLIC BODIES ‑- NOTICE TO PRESS AND RADIO

Under chapter 216, Laws of 1953, the type of notice to be given to the press, radio and television of the meetings of public bodies and agencies is as follows:

1. For the meetings of state agencies to be held in Olympia, notification of Associated Press, United Press, and Radio News Service is sufficient.

2. For meetings of state agencies to be held in any county other than Thurston, notice to any press service which has an agency located within the county, plus direct notice to the daily newspapers of general circulation published in the county, and notice to at least one radio and television station (if any) located in that county will suffice.  If there are no daily newspapers, notice to a weekly or other periodically published newspaper may be substituted.  If there are none published in the county, notice to any daily newspaper of general circulation in the county is sufficient.  If no radio or television station is located in the county, the newspaper notification is sufficient.  Meetings of agencies of municipalities or other political subdivisions are to be governed by the same rules except that press services need not be notified.

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                                                                   May 28, 1953

His Excellency
Arthur B. Langlie
Governor of the State of Washington
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 57

Attention:  Fred C. Koch

Dear Sir:

            Receipt of your letter of May 5, 1953, is hereby acknowledged.

            You have requested our interpretation of certain language in section 1, chapter 216, Laws of 1953, regarding the type of notice to be given under the provisions  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] of that section.  Your specific questions are:

            1. For the meetings of state agencies to be held in Olympia, will the purpose of the law be satisfied by notifying only the United Press, Associated Press, and Radio News Service?

            2. Will it be necessary to notify those newspapers which are not served by the agencies mentioned?

            3. Having notified the press and radio services, will it be necessary to give additional notification directly to the newspapers and radio stations?

            4. For the meetings of state agencies in counties other than Thurston, will the purpose of the law be satisfied by notifying only the newspapers and radio stations in the community in which the meeting covered by the act is to be held?

            Our conclusions are as follows:

            1. For meetings of state agencies to be held in Olympia, notification of Associated Press, United Press and Radio News Service is sufficient.

            2. No. (See answer number 4.)

            3. No. (See answer number 4.)

            4. For meetings of state agencies to be held in any county other than Thurston, notice to any press service which has an agency located within the county, plus direct notice to the daily newspapers of general circulation published in the county, and notice to at least one radio and television station (if any) located in that county will suffice.  If there are no daily newspapers, notice to a weekly or other periodically published newspaper may be substituted.  If there are none published in the county, notice to a daily newspaper of general circulation in the county is sufficient.  If there is no radio or television station located in the county, the newspaper notification may be deemed sufficient compliance.  For meetings of agencies of municipalities or other political subdivisions, the rule would be the same except that the press services need not be notified.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 1, chapter 216, Laws of 1953, provides in part:

            "No board, commission, agency or authority of the state of Washington, nor the governing board, commission, agency or authority of any political subdivision exercising legislative, regulatory or directive powers, shall adopt any ordinance, resolution rule, regulation, order or directive, except in a meeting open to the public and then only at a meeting, the date of which is fixed by law or rule, or at a meeting of which public notice has been given by notifying press, radio and television in the county and by such other means as may now or hereafter be provided by law:"  (Emphasis supplied)

            The application of a statute such as the one in question raises problems of practical difficulty far beyond the wildest dreams of any legislator.  News dissemination facilities in the state of Washington range from virtually nothing in some of the sparsely populated counties to a multitude of divers means and methods in counties such as King and Pierce.  If all facilities available to the public were to be used in every county, the officials of some agencies would be faced with an overwhelming task in the dissemination of the required notice alone, yet in other counties virtually no notice at all would be required.  The legislature obviously had in mind a common-sense approach to a very real problem.  That problem is the sinister growth of big government, becoming, in its final stages a chaotic overlapping of board, commission, agency, bureau, each governing from the top down, usually without the consent, and often without the knowledge, of those being governed.

            The purpose of this act is to assure that all who are interested will have some ready means of information regarding the passage of rules and regulations governing their everyday life.  Without such knowledge, the great constitutional freedoms which have long proved to be such a solid foundation for lasting government, rapidly become a fading memory of bygone glory.  "Public business is the public's business.  The people have a right to know.  Freedom is their  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] just heritage.  Without that the citizens of a democracy have but changed their kings."  Cross, The Peoples' Right to Know, p. XIII.

            Yet, we must bear in mind that if the commendable purpose of this act can be accomplished without unduly hamstringing the operation of government agencies, every effort must be indulged to that end.

            "Public notice" means reasonable notice to the public generally, as distinguished from private notice to particular individuals.  Catholic Order of Foresters v. State, 67 N.D. 228, 271 N.W. 670, 676, 109 A.L.R. 979.  The language "by notifying press, radio and television in the county" is merely definitive of the method by which that notice should be given.

            The words "press, radio and television" have commonly come to be used in more than one sense.  In referring to the "press" or to the "radio" as a public news service, the words are ordinarily used in the collective sense.  The word "press" when used in this sense is defined in Funk and Wagnall's New Standard Dictionary as follows:

            "Press * * * 6.  The newspapers or periodical literature of a country, district, or town, taken collectively."  (Emphasis supplied)

            We think the legislature used the phrase "press, radio and television" in the sense that they refer to persons engaged in each of those fields,taken collectively.  For example, the "press" means the entire press taken collectively as a single body or group.  The words "radio" and "television" are used in the same sense.

            Associated Press, United Press and Radio News Service are news agencies serving one hundred percent of the daily newspapers in the state of Washington, and most of the radio and television stations in the state.  Radio News Service serves those radio stations which are not handled by the press agencies.  The question is whether the notification of these agencies would satisfy the requirements of the statute.

            The purpose of the statute has been indicated above.  Obviously, the reason for the notice is that certain persons interested in the business coming before those public bodies might wish to attend.  Notice of these meetings may well be of statewide interest, but certainly the public interest is greatest in the community  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] where the meeting is to be held.  The legislature recognized this fact by requiring that the notice be directed to the press, radio, and television in the county, referring, of course, to the county in which the meeting is to be held.  It is our opinion that the three agencies referred to do constitute the "press, radio, and television" within the meaning of the statute.

            We are aware that in some counties there is neither a daily newspaper nor a radio station.  In these particular localities, the services of the press agencies would not be available.  Also, certain meetings may be of such slight public interest that the wire news services may not choose to carry them.  For these two reasons, we believe that the legislature contemplated that, in some cases, notification of the agencies mentioned may not be sufficient.  To avoid the risk of frustrating the legislative purpose, we believe that the following procedure should be followed:

            1. For meetings of state agencies to be held in Olympia, notice to the three news services mentioned herein is sufficient.

            2. For meetings of state agencies to be held in any other county, notice to any press service which has an agency within the county, plus direct notice to the daily newspapers of general circulation published in the county, and to at least one radio and television station (if any) located in the county will suffice.

            If there is no daily newspaper published in the county in which the meeting is to be held, the direct notice should be sent to any weekly or periodical newspaper published in the county.  If there be none, the direct notice should be sent to any daily newspaper generally circulated in the county in which the meeting is to be held.  If there is no radio or television station located in the county, we believe that the newspaper notice alone will suffice.  Although this opinion is specifically directed at the operations of state agencies, undoubtedly the boards and agencies of municipalities and other political subdivisions must be governed by the same rules, except that there would be no purpose in notifying the press services in such cases.

            We realize that the position taken herein places a greater emphasis upon notification to daily newspapers than upon weekly or other periodical publications.  This is not motivated by any feeling that the coverage by weeklies would not be  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] just as adequate or perhaps more so, in some cases.  Notwithstanding the outstanding service of these publications, their great number would multiply many-fold this particular task if each were to be notified separately.  As time goes by and the practices of the various agencies and those of the newspapers become crystallized, the public will gradually become aware of the sources of information available to it.  The requirements set forth above are to be considered minimums which should be complied with in all cases.  Certainly, if any agency desired to go further, it would be free to do so.

            In our opinion, the procedure indicated above will constitute full compliance with the statute in all counties in the state, whether or not the notice is actually published.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General

RALPH M. DAVIS
Assistant Attorney General

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