Clint Brewer, President, (615) 668-4535
Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 507-8911
INDIANAPOLIS — Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists commended the passage of a House version of the amended FOIA bill Tuesday.
“Passage of the FOIA bill will allow not only members of the press but all Americans to hold their government more accountable,” Society of Professional Journalists President Clint Brewer said. “In a time when First Amendment rights are under attack almost daily in this country, this bill is a major step to ensuring America has a free press and a government that is transparent and open.”
FOIA, as it is commonly called, is one of the strongest tools Americans have to supervise the inner workings of government and hold elected officials accountable. In March, the House of Representatives passed an earlier version of the bill, H.R. 1309, the OPEN Government Act, sponsored Reps. Todd Platts (R-Penn.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.).
The U.S. Senate passed its own version of the bill last week.
The House version does not alter FOIA’s disclosure requirements or any of its exemptions. However, the legislation does improve the process by which the federal government can carry out FOIA’s disclosure requirements. It creates an independent ombudsman to resolve citizen disputes, helps agencies strengthen FOIA, creates a tracking system for the public to easily track the status of requests and allows requesters to more effectively recover legal costs incurred when agencies improperly deny requests.
To ensure the bill’s passage, SPJ worked alongside members of the Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI), including the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Associated Press, Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, National Association of Broadcasters, National Newspaper Association, Newspaper Association of America, Radio-Television News Directors Association and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“Currently, delays, staggering legal fees and mountains of red tape undercut FOIA’s usefulness for citizens and journalists,” said David Cuillier, SPJ’s National Freedom of Information Committee chairman. “This bill is crucial for helping FOIA work better, which in turn, helps democracy work better.”
Now that the bill has been passed, it heads to the White House where awaits President George W. Bush’s signature.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For further information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.