Tensions rise over access to local government

It was a chilling crime and, even with a quick arrest, disturbing questions lingered. By ADAM…

Georgia (Mar 17, 2014) — It was a chilling crime and, even with a quick arrest, disturbing questions lingered.

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http://news.msn.com/us/tensions-rise-over-access-to-local-government

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 shot dead.

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. …



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 38,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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