Fall 2004

Journalists Act to Combat Government Secrecy

By Pete Weitzel
Today journalists are observing a growing culture of secrecy in Washington and the use of “national security” to justify restricted access and sometimes complete closure throughout all areas of government. Organizations representing their interests have taken initial steps toward pushing back.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors has begun to organize a national Sunshine Sunday for March 13, 2005 and will ask newspapers and TV stations across the country to prepare special reports, editorials and other commentary for that day about open government. It is working with the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government to enlist support of all of its member organizations. This could be the first step in a national FOIA awareness campaign.

SPJ [Society of Professional Journalists] is developing a “tool kit” on how to conduct an FOIA audit—a look at how well, or poorly, officials in a community or region or state comply with that state’s open records laws. Audits have been successfully conducted in about a dozen states and put public officials on notice, prompting a variety of remedial actions and informing the public about the law and their rights.

The Reporters Committee for Freecom of the Press has just published the fifth edition of “Homefront Confidential,” its comprehensive analysis of the laws and regulations dealing with national security and their consequences. The report raises the “threat level” to freedom of information.

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