FOI Daily Dose: Ohio newspapers restrictions on open government, AP president says DOJ violated its own rules

Ohio newspapers stand against restrictions on open government, records

The Ohio Newspapers Association (ONA) is standing against more than half a dozen bills pending in the legislature that place more restrictions on the state’s public records and open meetings laws, according to Gongwer News Service.

Two bills ONA is watching closely include House Bill 59, an amendment that allows local governments to discuss economic development deals in secret and Senate Bill 60, legislation that eliminates public access to concealed handgun permit records (see previous post).

Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio monitors the state’s sunshine laws, and she told Gongwer News Service she’s noticed increased efforts to limit access to government information across the board.

Dennis Hetzel, ONA executive director, told Gongwer there are other pending bills that provide hope for open government advocates, including Senate Bill 93 that limits reasons for executive session, House Bill 175 that creates a state government expenditure database and House Bill 189 that increases the transparency of Jobs Ohio.

AP president says DOJ subpoena without warning violated DOJ rules, compromised First Amendment freedoms

Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of The Associated Press, accused the Justice Department of violating its own rules when it secretly subpoenaed more than 20 AP phone lines in May. He also noted some sources have been reluctant to talk with reporters since the search for  fear that their anonymity will be compromised.

Pruitt addressed a luncheon of journalists and others June 19, telling them the AP was never warned about the search that monitored thousands of phone calls to and from its reporters even though the DOJ rules say the only reason for a delay in notification is if the party searched could compromise the investigation.

Pruitt said there’s little reason to believe this could justify not warning the AP because their phone records were in the hands of the phone company so there’s no way they could have tampered with them. The FBI had also already announced its leak investigation by the time the search began, so the leaker was already tipped off, Pruitt said.

Instead, he explained the only logical reason the DOJ did not notify the AP is to supersede the AP’s ability to contest the search or narrow its scope.

“The DOJ’s actions could not have been more tailor-made to comfort authoritarian regimes that want to suppress their own news media,” Pruitt said.

Beyond the DOJ’s own code of ethics, he said the search compromised the First Amendment freedom of the press and effectively suppressed the free speech of federal leakers. Since the search, he said reporters from several news organizations have told him their sources felt intimidated by the DOJ’s actions.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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