SPJ urges Congress to allow open coverage of health care bill discussions
For immediate release
Kevin Smith, SPJ President, 304-367-4864, firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Grabowski, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000 ext. 215, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter Jan. 7 that strongly urges House and Senate leaders to open all discussions about the health care bill to the public through the use of C-SPAN and other media. SPJ sent the letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The letter is below.
C-SPAN initially sent a request to Congressional leaders on Dec. 30, 2009. That request was still in limbo as of Jan. 7, prompting SPJ and numerous media outlets and congressional Republicans to urge access. Click here for a listing of responses to and coverage of the issue.
Following is SPJ’s letter:
Dear Speaker Pelosi:
The Society of Professional Journalists strongly urges the House and Senate to reconcile differences between health care bills, including negotiations, conference committee meetings and discussions with the White House, openly. The public trust will be won only through transparency – the live reporting of discussions by C-SPAN and other media.
We realize such negotiations are sensitive and that Congress prefers to conduct negotiations in private to foster frank discussion, but the health-care legislation is too important to the American people to craft in secret. Every day in newspaper editorial pages across the country people from all partisan philosophies are expressing their intense interest in this issue and their hunger for information. They want to see the sausage being made. Legislation developed behind closed doors fuels paranoia, mistrust and contempt by citizens for Congress and the president.
We also see this as an opportunity for Congress to begin doing something that takes place every week in every city in America: openly formulate legislation. Throughout the country, town councils, school boards and other local governing bodies are required by state open meeting laws to hold committee meetings in public – essentially their caucuses and negotiations to formulate legislation. Draft ordinance language is debated for all to see so that citizens can understand how it was developed before it goes to full debate and a vote. Even some state legislatures hold caucus discussions and conference committee meetings openly.
We have heard promises by President Obama and congressional leaders of how the process in this historic revamping of the health care system will be transparent, but televised public forums and floor debates are not enough. The American people want to see the most important part of the process for themselves. Televise the negotiations live and you will embark on a new era of openness, accountability and public trust in America.
Kevin Smith, President
Society of Professional Journalists
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.