Tensions rise over access to local government
It was a chilling crime and, even with a quick arrest, disturbing questions lingered.
(Mar 17, 2014) — It was a chilling crime and, even with a quick arrest, disturbing questions lingered.
Link To Articlehttp://news.msn.com/us/tensions-rise-over-access-to-local-government
By ADAM GELLER of Associated Press
Derrick Thompson called 911 in the coastal Maine city of Biddeford to report that
he was being threatened. Police checked out the complaint, decided it was a civil
matter and left the scene. Three minutes later, the teenager and his girlfriend were
In a state averaging 25 murders a year, the case was clearly of public interest and
the police officers were doing the public's business. But answering questions about
their handling of the call took a lawsuit, an appeal and 11 months after state prosecutors
turned down the Portland Press Herald's request for 911 transcripts.
The faceoff was eventually settled in the newspaper's favor by Maine's top court.
But editors, advocates and academics say such situations reflect increasing difficulty
getting access to information from statehouses and city halls across the country,
as officials broadly interpret exemptions in laws requiring openness.
Tensions between government officials, journalists and watchdog groups are a constant
in American life. But while it can be difficult to measure change, observers are troubled
by what they see as declining transparency that some say may be abetted by public
apathy. Government's swing away from openness began with post-Sept. 11 security worries,
they say, and has been fueled more recently by officials' concerns about individual
privacy, changes in technology and opaque laws on campaign finance. …
At the same time, researchers say journalists are finding it more difficult to obtain
information from government through Freedom of Information requests. And, in a survey
of more than 450 state and local reporters to be released this week, an overwhelming
majority said that public information officers for agencies they cover are increasingly
restricting access to officials and imposing other controls limiting their ability
to report on government.
"The problem is pervasive," said Carolyn Carlson, a professor of communication at
Kennesaw State University, outside Atlanta, who conducted the survey. "I think it's
a problem for reporters as well as for the public. It means that reporters can't tell
the story that they want to be able to tell them about their government."
Those findings are echoed in the anecdotal experience of newsroom leaders surveyed
recently by the Associated Press Media Editors. Of the 37 who responded, two-thirds
said that over the last five years the governments they cover had become less cooperative
in providing access to records, meetings and officials. …
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