News editors, Business editors, Photo editors, Assignment desks
Al Cross, SPJ President, 502/648-8433 or email@example.com
Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee co-chairman,
(406) 542-4449 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Terry Eberle, editor and vice president of The Indianapolis Star, 317/444-6169 or Terry.Eberle@indystar.com
Donald Asher, deputy executive editor of The Times of Northwest Indiana,
219/462-5151 or email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana legislators should not pass a law that would allow them to make legislative records secret because it would destroy public accountability and be a slap in the face to Hoosier residents, says the Society of Professional Journalists.
SPJ President Al Cross sent a letter to Hoosier lawmakers today urging them not to defy Gov. Frank O’Bannon’s veto of Indiana House Bill 1083, which would exempt all state lawmakers from Indiana’s public records law. Legislators are gathering for Organization Day on Tuesday and are expected to vote on overriding the governor’s veto.
“Governor O’Bannon vetoed House Bill 1083 because he knew from his personal business experience that it was an affront to the public’s interest in holding government officials accountable for their actions,” wrote SPJ President Al Cross, political reporter and columnist for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. “We hope members of the General Assembly will not override his veto and thus subordinate that great public interest, that basic right, to their own private interests.”
The legislation calls for giving Indiana lawmakers the right to block all letters, e-mails and other forms of communication from public view and to make their own rules for what information they share with the public. A poll of 500 Hoosier registered voters published in Saturday’s edition of The Indianapolis Star showed that 68 percent oppose the bill.
“House Bill 1083 is a giant step backward for the citizens of Indiana. It will hurt press access but will create an even greater hardship on the average person in Indiana,” said Terry Eberle, editor and vice president of The Indianapolis Star. “They are the ones who will be kept in the dark on what their elected officials are doing.”
A few rare states in the nation already have laws that exempt legislators from open records laws. If the Indiana Legislature overrides the governor’s veto and passes its proposed exemption law, it will join a frightening trend.
“Open government in Indiana is about to step back nearly 20 years, before the original Access to Public Records Act was enacted,” said Donald Asher, deputy executive editor of The Times of Northwest Indiana and a member of the SPJ pro chapter in Chicago. “HB 1083 is not about reading legislators’ private e-mail as they would like the public to believe. It’s about their desire to do the public’s business in secret. It’s as simple as that.”
SPJ has been at the forefront of this issue since spring, when the bill was before the Indiana General Assembly, passed and sent to the governor’s desk. SPJ issued several statements and sent three letters to O’Bannon expressing opposition to HB 1083 and urging the governor to veto the bill and help keep records open to the public. The SPJ Indianapolis Pro Chapter also delivered a petition with more than 100 signatures asking for O’Bannon to veto the legislation. The governor vetoed HB 1083 in May.
“This is an example of the worst kind of government arrogance,” said Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman and special projects coordinator for KPAX-TV in Missoula, Mont. “How dare the Indiana Legislature say it will serve the public’s interest better by locking citizens out of the decision-making process.”
To urge Indiana General Assembly leaders to keep the governor’s veto of HB 1083 intact, contact Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Garton at 317/232-9400 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Speaker of the House John Gregg at 317/232-9600 or email@example.com.
The letter Cross sent to Indiana legislators is as follows:
Nov. 19, 2001
Robert Garton, President Pro Tempore of the Senate
John R. Gregg, Speaker of the HouseStatehouse
Indianapolis, IN 46204
The Society of Professional Journalists, founded and based in the Hoosier State, writes to express its great concern about the Indiana General Assembly’s unprecedented efforts to shield its records from the public.
Governor O’Bannon vetoed House Bill 1083 because he knew from his personal business experience that it was an affront to the public’s interest in holding government officials accountable for their actions. We hope members of the General Assembly will not override his veto and thus subordinate that great public interest, that basic right, to their own private interests.
The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s oldest and broadest journalism organization and is dedicated to protecting the public interest and ensuring that ethical and credible professionals report the news.
We have a particular interest in Indiana because we have a proud heritage here. SPJ was founded as Sigma Delta Chi at DePauw University in 1909 and has its headquarters in Indianapolis, in the new Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center at 3909 North Meridian Street. SPJ has four professional chapters and six student chapters in Indiana. The Indiana Pro Chapter, based in Indianapolis, ranks in the top 20 professional chapters in the nation. My own newspaper, The Courier-Journal, has a strong circulation in southern Indiana.
We are not ivory-tower outsiders. We want Indiana to remain strong in its commitment to the public’s right to know about actions of their government and its officials. Please do not resurrect HB 1083.
Society of Professional Journalists
cc: Senate Democratic Floor Leader Richard Young; House Republican Leader Brian Bosma; Rep. Jeff Thompson; Rep. James Buck; Sen. James Merritt
The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ 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.