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SPJ applauds Obama administration’s transparency efforts


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12/9/2009


For immediate release

Contacts:
Kevin Z. Smith, SPJ President, 304-367-4864,
ksmith@spj.org
David Cuillier, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chairman, 520-626-9694,
cuillier@email.arizona.edu

SPJ applauds Obama administration’s transparency efforts



INDIANAPOLIS – Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists applaud the Tuesday release of the Open Government Directive and its call by the Obama administration for federal agencies to increase public access to government information.

“The president's mandate that the federal government develop greater transparency is welcomed by all journalists and the public in general,” said SPJ President Kevin Smith. “We applaud the news coming from the White House that there will be a greater sense of openness when it comes to the activities of our national government. We readily support this initiative and we look forward to the positive outcomes.”

In particular, SPJ is pleased with the requirement for federal agencies to create open government pages for soliciting public feedback on their access, or lack of access, to documents and data. The directive, issued by President Obama through the Office of Management and Budget, also requires agencies to post at least three useful, “high-value” easily searchable datasets on their Web sites within 45 days.

Smith said that as more and more journalists lose their jobs it is important that citizens be able to easily find useful information about their government.

“The public should take the president up on his offer of better records access,” Smith said.

The directive comes at a good time, following a rocky first year of openness for the Obama administration, said SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chairman David Cuillier. Despite a pledge for greater transparency on his first day in office, President Obama initially fought to keep White House visitor logs secret, withheld torture photos, and has kept a variety of other important documents confidential. On Monday, a workshop for federal employees about government openness was closed to the public.

“It’s easy to call for transparency and put mounds of harmless data on the Web,” Cuillier said. “It’s much more difficult reducing FOIA request backlogs and releasing documents that might be embarrassing to the government. But that kind of true, courageous transparency is essential for an open, informed society.”

Smith and Cuillier said yesterday’s directive is a good step toward building a culture of transparency and accountability in government. But it will mean little if the federal government doesn’t follow through to reduce FOIA backlogs and better fund responsive government. SPJ stands ready to assist the administration in improving government transparency for everyone.

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. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.

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