Tuesday, December 18, 2007

FOIA reform bill wins final passage; ombudsman could help speed rural media records requests

The U.S. House today passed by voice vote a measure to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, sending it to President Bush for his signature or veto. The legislation, House Resolution 1309, could prove especially helpful to rural news outlets.

The measure "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," says a release from the Society of Professional Journalists. It also would improve the ability of information requesters to be reimbursed for legal fees when they have to sue, sets up tracking numbers for requests, limits fees agencies can charge when time limits for a response are not met, requires agencies to explain which exemptions to disclosure are being used to justify deletions from records, and requires reports to Congress that will help oversight committees judge the effectiveness of executive branch performance.

The Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of 10 media groups, said in a release, "Community newspapers particularly sought an independent office to resolve disputes." It quotes Steve Haynes, president of the National Newspaper Association and publisher of the Oberlin (Kan.) News: "Strengthening the Freedom of Information Act will pay dividends in public information for a long time to come. This newlaw has many virtues. But as community newspaper journalists, we particularly celebrate the development of an ombudsman office under the Office of Government Information Services." (Read more)

1 comment:

George said...

This is great news for America and will end government agencies ability to hide from the public. At the Thomas Jackson Centers we have our fingers crossed that the President will sign this bill into law under his own signature. His name on the law would be an open endorsement that Open Government is good government. Without his name, the bill will ride out the congressional recess and become law absent the Presidents signature. The new law will also go a long way in answering the question “Are bloggers journalist?” Good question and here is my answer. I am one of three bloggers (correspondents, writers, etc.) on the three blogs of the Thomas Jackson Center. If you visit our site, you’ll see that ClustrMaps has tracked visitors from all over the world who read our blogs. The government may not like to call us journalist even though bloggers have broken some of the biggest stories in recent history. But and the Big But is - that blogs often have more readers than small town newspapers.