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U.S. Survey Finds More Desire for Transparency

last modified Aug 30, 2011 12:00 AM

Source: Freedominfo.org

Date: 30 August 2011

A lack of resources has made news organizations “increasingly less inclined to file freedom of information lawsuits,” but citizens have “a growing interest in government transparency and are becoming more active in asserting their right to government information,” according to a new study in the United States.

The surveys were conducted by the Media Law Resource Center (MLRC) and the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and mirror trends identified in 2009.

The new findings include both good news and bad, said Kenneth F. Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

“If ordinary citizens are becoming more aware of their access rights, and more assertive regarding them, it is indeed a reason to be gratified,” he said. “However, if news organizations are trending toward being less gung-ho in an area once regarded as a matter of responsibility and stewardship, there is the frightening potential that journalism could suffer, as could the health of our democracy.”

According to a summary by the organizations, “Both media lawyers and representatives of the NFOIC member coalitions said they had seen an increased number of open government violations in recent years. But the state coalitions’ views diverged from that of media attorneys, seeing a slight increase in government officials’ understanding and compliance with requests for records and information.”

Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, noted some positive trends in the responses.

“It is encouraging that some government officials’ understanding and compliance with open government records requests apparently have increased. And, it is heartening that respondents report that the number of open records requests made by private citizens and other non-media organizations has grown,” she said. “While a professional objective of journalism is to keep government as open and transparent and accountable as possible, a public that also demands open and transparent government is hugely important.”

Baron added that increased pressure by citizens for more transparency could help offset a decrease in media resources.