Citing North Carolina’s Open Records laws, Alcoa Aluminum Inc. wants UNC-TV — licensed to the University of North Carolina — to turn over all reporting documents relating to its North Carolina Now segments titled, “Alcoa and the Yadkin River.” UNC-TV spokesman Steve Volstad told Current that station attorneys will “abide by the letter of the law,” and are still researching the request. There’s a great deal of information at stake, including anything related to reporter Eszter Vajda’s research into Alcoa’s request for a new 50-year lease of four hydroelectric dams in the state.
UNC-TV earlier this month (July 6) provided that information to its state legislature as part of its investigation into the dam lease renewal. UNC-TV attorneys decided that state law required public agencies to turn over information sought by any legislative committee, and they didn’t think the request fell under the state’s 1999 press shield law that protects journalists from having to disclose information not yet disseminated.
In a July 9 press release, Alcoa President Rick Bowen said, “We don’t have any desire to enter into the editorial process or challenge the freedom of the press, but UNC-TV has openly acknowledged that it is a state agency. Given the story’s inherent bias, the inclusion of undocumented claims against Alcoa, the fact that the segment aired with a disclaimer at the beginning and end acknowledging that for the first time ever the station abandoned its customary editorial review process, along with UNC-TV’s decision to permit Sen. Fletcher Hartsell to use its unpublished video as a blatant political tool, we want to learn more about how this story was developed and who influenced the content.”
The release says the request covers “all video footage as well as all unedited, edited and final versions, photographs, compilations, and related materials as well as all communications and/or correspondence sent or received by Eszter Vajda or any other employee or representative of UNC-TV since January 1, 2008.”