July 6th, 2012
Freedom of Information Act’s 46th anniversary is a reminder of journalism’s watchdog role
By Whitney Evans
The U.S. Freedom of Information Act turned 46 on July 4, 2012. Today’s blog contains reminders of those whose sacrifices made our access to government information possible.
For instance, Judith Miller (though herself controversial among journalists) spent 12 weeks in jail in order to defend her right to refuse disclosure of her sources and, on a grander scale, your right to do the same. Whistleblowers across the globe continue to expose wrongdoing, often risking retaliation or the loss of their career. Some journalists risk or sacrifice their lives fighting to obtain information from the government.
Journalists carry the responsibility to be the fourth estate and help keep the government accountable.
This was the case for Satbir Sharma, from India, whose wife was killed and father wounded in retributive action by their mayor, Dharamvir Malik, The Associated Press reported. The Sharma family had previously filed a corruption report against Malik using information obtained through India’s new right to know law.
Our country affords us the privilege to fight to secure additional freedoms. One example of this was seen with Utah’s infamous House Bill 477. The bill included — among other provisions — an exemption for legislators’ text and instant messages. The bill passed and went into effect immediately. However, the media and public responded en masse, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert and the legislature repealed the law shortly thereafter. He and other GOP leaders in the state then commissioned a working group to address the problems with Utah’s open access laws. Ultimately, many of the recommendations from the working group were included in this year’s S.B. 177. A Utah state ombudsman position and mandatory online online training for records offices are two of the transparency measures from this bill.
Journalists carry the responsibility to be the fourth estate and help keep the government accountable. We are the beneficiaries of the tenacity of trailblazers who showed headstrong commitment to open government and freedom of information. We need to continue to encourage the passage of a federal shield law so sources can expose wrongdoing without undue fear of reprisal or discovery. We need to fight for more federal agencies to adopt stronger whistleblower protections. In short, we need to do more to secure citizens’ rights to government information.
- Information on the U.S. Freedom of Information law.
- The National Security Archive compiled 46 headlines from the past year that showcase FOI successes.
- More on the 46th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act at openthegovernment.org.
- Check out the bi-partisan faster FOI effort by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – firstname.lastname@example.org – or on twitter – @whitevs7
*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to wevans@HQ.SPJ.org. It may be featured in a future post.
Tags: Curtis Bramble, FOI, Freedom of Information Act, Governor Gary Herbert, Internal Revenue Service, John Cornyn, Judith Miller, Office of Management and Budget, openthegovernment, Patrick Leahy, Security and Exchange Commission, Utah H.B. 177, Utah S.B. 177