Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Leahy’

Freedom of Information Act’s 46th anniversary is a reminder of journalism’s watchdog role


Photo courtesy of National Archives

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  However, the media and public responded en masse,  and Utah Governor Gary Herbert and the legislature repealed the law shortly thereafter.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.

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Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

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Senate Judiciary Committee passes cameras in courtroom and FOIA-monitoring bills

Today, most media eyes are on Washington, D.C. following the news (or lack thereof) of a possible deal to prevent a federal government shutdown. But as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid go back and forth in press conferences, there was “meat and potatoes” work being done on the Hill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee met today, referring several bills and judicial nominations to the Senate floor. Among those bills passed were two of particular interest to freedom of information and open government-access watchers.

S410, the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, passed 12-6. The measure would permit broadcasting, televising and other recording of court proceedings in federal appellate or district courts. However, it’s not a blanket mandate, as written. The bill gives discretion to a presiding judge to authorize such activities. It’s sponsored by Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley. Read the bill text and summary.

S627, sponsored by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, would expedite Freedom of Information Act requests made of federal agencies. Called the Faster FOIA Act, the bill would create a commission to examine processing delays in records requests. The commission would also explore why use of federal government FOIA exemptions in denying records requests increased in fiscal year 2009. Read the bill text and summary.

SPJ and the Freedom of Information Committee will follow the progress of both bills.

– Scott Leadingham


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