First Amendment Report Card: C+ for the five freedoms

The five freedoms of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution received a C+ grade from a panel of reviewers brought together by the Newseum Institute. The report card is an effort to assign a grade four times each year to each of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Panelists were asked to assign an individual grade to each of the freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition. (Disclosure: I participated as a grader.) Read some of the grades and comments or Newseum Institute Chief Operating Officer Gene Policinski’s commentary. It’s important to remember that we were asked [More]

Gorsuch on libel standards

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch explains current standards for libel and First Amendment protections established in New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court decision that established clear protections for newsreporting and speech about public officials. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asks Gorsuch about the standard. KLOBUCHAR: I’m gonna end with freedom of press in honor of my dad. He was a newspaper reporter his whole life and I’m especially concerned in today’s world where we’re seeing these attacks on the media about maintaining the press’s role as a watch dog. Our founders enshrined freedom of the press in the First [More]

FIRST Principles Update for March 21, 2017

News Media for Open Government publishes FIRST Principles to update you on some of what we’re following. Lawmakers prod executive branch to implement FOIA reforms. On March 15, 2017, senior senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent letters seeking updates and timetables for completing reforms that Congress put in place last year make the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) work better. Signed by Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the letters were notable for sending a clear message that Senators on a bipartisan basis want to see the [More]

FIRST Principles for March 3, 2017

Welcome to the News Media for Open Government FIRST Principles Updates Name Change: Why we became News Media for Open Government. Working for over a decade as the Sunshine in Government Initiative, we adopted a new name, a new, broadened mission to protect newsgathering, and a new look. And in 2017, we’ll be doing more to help our member groups keep track of trends and fight to protect newsgathering and open government. Comments, concerns, tips or suggestions? Send them to Rick Blum, director, News Media for Open Government at rblum@foropengov.org. Appreciation to our members. If you support these groups through [More]

Cosmetics manufacturing bill (H.R. 575) hides adverse events

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tx.) has introduced legislation that appears to allow cosmetics manufacturers to keep product complaints reported to the federal government secret. The legislation (H.R. 575), appears to allow the executive branch wide latitude to determine through regulation what agencies must require manufacturers to disclose publicly. “(g) List.—The Secretary shall compile and maintain an up-to-date and publicly available electronic list of cosmetics and ingredients for which statements are submitted under this section. A statement submitted pursuant to this section shall not be subject to disclosure under section 552 of title 5, United States Code. The Secretary may make publicly [More]

Accuracy in journalism

Journalism at its best is guided by the search for truth and holding the powerful to account. This is not some academic exercise or noble goal. Resources abound for learning about how the news media takes seriously its commitment to accuracy. An important starting point is the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which lays out four commitments for journalists: seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent. The SPJ website provides detailed guidance on work by the Code, and it gives good grounding for any person with questions about how journalists do their work.

Release: SGI adopts new name, broadened focus: News Media for Open Government

  PRESS RELEASE — FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  Sunshine in Government Initiative changes name to News Media for Open Government, Re-focuses on defending and advancing newsgathering and open government   January 18, 2017 — After more than a decade of work to advance government transparency, the Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI), a coalition of nine leading journalism associations, is today announcing a new name and broadened focus on threats to newsgathering and open government. Going forward SGI will be known as News Media for Open Government. Members of the coalition include: American Society of News Editors, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, The Associated [More]

Threat of leaks investigation

President-elect Trump used Twitter to announce he asked the House and Senate intelligence committees to identify who provided to NBC News a memorandum outlining the intelligence community’s assessment of efforts by the Russian government to influence the presidential election. A threat of an investigation by Congress into unauthorized disclosures to the news media should be taken seriously. As has been widely reported, the report obtained by NBC the version for public release, not the classified version with sensitive details describing how the information was compiled. Reporting based in part on unauthorized disclosures is at times a useful way to put together an accurate picture of key events [More]

CFTC Reauthorization (H.R. 238) includes a FOIA exemption

Legislation approved on January 12 by the full House of Representatives to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (H.R. 238) contains an exemption to disclosure under federal FOIA for information CFTC may “asertain” regarding complicated trading structures known as commodity pools and client accounts. As introduced, the legislation required that the information be treated as investigative material. CFTC could publish aggregated information the disclosure of which would not identify “any person or firm, or such person’s proprietary information.” On its face, the exemption appears to cover a broad amount of information, including: “(A) the commodity trading advisor, commodity pool operator or the trading strategies of [More]

Implementing FOIA a test of new administration, 2016 FOIA Amendments

The incoming Trump administration has a narrower window for affecting how agencies implement their obligations under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) than previous presidents, however each administration sets the tone for disclosure decisions in cases where agencies have discretion. With the enactment of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, Congress wrote into law an explicit requirement that agencies disclose information requested under FOIA unless they foresee a harm to a protected interest, such as national security or personal privacy. While the new administration cannot change the presumption of openness by executive action alone, it can influence what agencies do (or don’t do) when [More]