I've written multiple times over the years about the importance of freedom of information laws, and the need to help the public understand that access to information about government is a right for all citizens, not just journalists.
Too often, people think (or they're erroneously told by government officials) that they can't obtain certain information unless they're a reporter.
But this week, I'd like to share information about a proposed update to a freedom of information policy that actually could make it tougher for reporters to get information compared with a private citizen.
In early September, the federal Department of Defense published a proposed rule with changes to its Freedom of Information Act policy.
There are multiple troubling changes in this proposal, but the one that stood out most for me was this: "The IDA [initial denial authority] should consult with PAO [public affairs officers] to become familiar with subject matter that is considered to be newsworthy, and advise PAOs of FOIA requests from news media representatives. The IDA also should inform PAOs in advance when they intend to withhold or partially withhold a record if it appears the withholding action may be a media issue."
What this measure would do is essentially take what should be a cut-and-dry decision based on the law — whether information can legally be withheld from a requester — and inject politics and public relations into the equation.
"FOIA is about informing the public about what the government is up to, not informing the government about what the press is up to," the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press stated in official comments filed with the DOD regarding the proposed changes. "This provision of the Proposed Rule should be deleted in its entirety."
A number of journalism organizations are understandably opposed to this change, and I hope their outrage will soon be shared by the public and our elected representatives in Washington. That, in turn, should lead to an abandonment of this flawed provision.