Journalism Educators Urge President Obama to Further Transparency in the Federal Government

July 4, 2013 | The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) is committed to the public’s right to know through access to government records so that citizens have the information they need to properly self-govern.

In celebrating the 47th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on July 4, 1966, AEJMC applauds President Barack Obama’s 2009 pledge to hold his administration to a higher standard of openness and transparency. At the same time, it strongly urges President Obama to prioritize this freedom of information (FOI) pledge during the next four years.

As an organization of 3,600 journalism and mass communication educators and professionals in the United States and abroad, we care deeply about citizens’ ability to access government documents and other records without undue delay, cost or logistical process. Many of our members focus their teaching and research on FOI laws and government agency practice.

These AEJMC members report some improvements in their access to federal records, including some government agencies’ proactive release of information through websites and improved responsiveness.

However, more must be done to fulfill President Obama’s promise of a more open and transparent government. This becomes all the more compelling, given that the United States’ reputation as a global leader in transparency and in its citizens’ right to information has never been more openly questioned, especially after recent revelations about the U.S. government’s secret surveillance program.

The Obama administration must improve citizens’ access to data that are provided through online portals and must enhance the government’s capabilities to respond to online FOIA requests and tracking. Agency FOIA regulations and delivery procedures need updating. A White House-appointed committee should seek to end excessive reliance on state secrets privilege and record classification in the name of national security.

Further, AEJMC urges improvements to FOIA processes and procedures that would better position the Office of Government Information Services to serve citizens, including the authority to require agency release of records that would be similar to what progressive FOIA laws require in Mexico and other countries.

Ultimately, in a right-to-know age of global information, all levels of government must operate as transparently as possible to foster economic growth, civic engagement and trust in the institutions of a democratic society. President Obama can make significant strides during his second term, fulfilling his earlier promise to promote FOI efficiency and effectiveness in government through openness and transparency.

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