Media coalition opposes proposed FOIA changes

A coalition of 40 news organizations submitted comments this week to the U.S. Department of the Interior opposing its proposed changes to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The changes would eliminate the ability to make FOIA requests by email; set prohibitive requirements for requesters; make it more difficult for journalists to get a fee waiver; and limit agencies’ obligations to search for records.

“As a matter of principle, we frown upon barriers thrown down before any citizen’s efforts to get information from government agencies,” said NNA President Andrew Johnson, publisher of the (Mayville) Dodge County Pionier. “In this case, the Interior Department particularly caught our attention because its work so intimately touches smaller communities. Community newspapers cover these agencies, and although we do not often have time to wait for the slow FOIA process to get information to us, our experience is that the formal FOIA rules tend to bleed into the agencies’ general public affairs stance in talking with journalists.

“We should not have to be private detectives to investigate exactly what records are called and where they are in order to get a request answered. That is not what the federal FOIA law requires. We think these regulations are way over the top. We will be discussing them with our Congressional delegations.”

The coalition included The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Society of News Editors, The Associated Press, Associated Press Media Editors, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, BuzzFeed, The Center for Public Integrity, Dow Jones & Company, Inc., The E.W. Scripps Company, First Look Media, Works, Inc., Gannett Co., Inc., Inter American Press Association, International Documentary Assn., Investigative Reporting Program, Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, The McClatchy Company, The Media Institute, MPA – The Association of Magazine Media, National Freedom of Information Coalition, National Newspaper Association, The National Press Club, National Press Club Journalism Institute, National Press Photographers Association, National Public Radio, Inc., New England First Amendment Coalition, The New York Times Company, Newsday LLC, Online News Association, PEN America, ProPublica, Radio Television Digital News Association, Reporters Without Borders, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, The Seattle Times Company, Society of Environmental Journalists, Society of Professional Journalists, Tribune Publishing Company, Tully Center for Free Speech, Verizon Media and VICE Media.

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