Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Bill bolstering Freedom of Information Act is law

President Bush has signed a bill strengthening the federal Freedom of Information Act. The legislation could prove especially helpful to rural news outlets, because it creates an independent ombudsman to resolve disputes without legal action.

The bill, S. 2488, also creates a tracking system for FOIA requests, makes it easier for requesters to recover legal costs when agencies improperly deny 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 bill defines "representative of the news media" as "any person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience. In this clause, the term 'news' means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public. ... A freelance journalist shall be regarded as working for a news-media entity if the journalist can demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication through that entity, whether or not the journalist is actually employed by the entity. A publication contract would present a solid basis for such an expectation; the Government may also consider the past publication record of the requester in making such a determination."

Bush signed the bill without comment, other than a brief summary from his press office.

1 comment:

Thomas Jackson said...

When the President signed the Open Government Act of 2007 in the 11th Hour, he did nonetheless crack the door. It will take a full year for Government to become “open,” with the built in12 month delay in the in new law, but it will open the door. For the first time since the original act was implemented, federal government officials can be held accountable for violating the law. Had this new act been in place last year, the officials that used and twisted the act to keep documents out of the hands of a Coast Guard employee would be on a Federal Court Docket trying to stave off fines and jail time. TJ