Happy FOI-th of July!
This Independence Day marks the 47th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act being signed into federal law, establishing our right to open records and meetings.
FOIA puts power in the hands of the people, ensuring us the information we need to participate in democratic decisions and, when necessary, hold our government accountable.
As Betsy Cushman, president of the League of Women Voters, notes in a July 2 editorial, a Pew Research Center poll shows only 26 percent of Americans surveyed feel they can trust Washington “almost always or most of the time”—among the lowest ratings since the FOIA was established.
But let’s not look at that other 74 percent in fear. Let’s allow our distrust to inspire a healthy skepticism in an age shrouded by secrecy. As citizens are monitored by mass surveillance and reporters are subject to grand scale subpoenas, we need the Freedom of Information Act to uphold the system of checks and balances our Founding Fathers established.
About thirteen years after Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he wrote: “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”
Celebrate FOIA’s 47th year by exercising your right to know and knowing your rights. Here are some FOI resources from SPJ.
Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.
Unfettered access to those in power, a push for government transparency and a vigorous defense of the First Amendment are perhaps more important now than ever before. Join us as we fight for the public’s right to know as an SPJ Supporter. Or, if you’re a journalist, we welcome you to stand with us as a Professional, Student or Retired Member.