FOI Update from MPR

Posted by: on Mar 18, 2009 | No Comments

Citizen lobbyist, Rich Neumeister , is awarded the 2009 John R. Finnegan award for open government. He is also interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio with Minneapolis Attorney and First Amendment specialist, Mark Anfinson.

You can listen to or read the program on the MRP web site.

Play it again, NCMR

Posted by: on Jul 7, 2008 | No Comments

In several conversations during the past few weeks I’ve heard people mention that they wish they’d been able to attend the June 6-8 National Media Reform Conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Never mind the Strib reporter and Bill O’Reilly didn’t appreciate the opportunity – in fact, their negative take might have expanded the audience.

Take heart – all of the keynote and other major talks are streamed online. You’ll see and hear Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, author Amy Goodman, political analyst Bill Moyers and a host of other speakers on the NCMR website. There’s also an audio file, transcripts, photos of participants and speakers, and an expanding collection of follow-up reports and developments.

National Media Reform Conference Distilled

Posted by: on Jun 30, 2008 | No Comments

The intensity of the National Media Reform Conference held recently in Minneapolis was overwhelming. It’s taken me days to unravel and process the themes of the conference and its countless pre- and post- sessions. The one mainstream media report on the conference, buried in the back pages of the Star Tribune, did the conference a disservice. I can only conclude that Neil Justin and I just attended different sessions, or maybe different conferences.

The sessions in which I participated and the excellent exhibitor representatives, provided context and content to a real movement. This is a surge of energy that has been simmering for decades.

Bill Moyers’ keynote absorbed – and deserved – much of the media attention and garnered scores of ovations. And then there was the terrific exhibit of books sponsored by BirchBark Books, a local independent. The exhibit, offering an impressive selection of related titles, was doing a brisk business every time I ventured past.

One particular observation I have is that participants ranged from teens to people who have been fighting the good right even longer than I have. The session with George Stoney, the “father of public access”, and visionary FCC Commissioner Nicolas Johnson, both from the past century, well documented that fact.

In spite of the information overload I’m proud to have been a participant at this juncture of the media reform movement. Most of all, I’m proud that once again Minnesota played host to a conference devoted to openness, freedom of information, and an informed public.

Same time next year, Minnesota hosts the annual conference of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

Live From Main Street

Posted by: on Jun 3, 2008 | No Comments

Whether or not folks are immediately involved with the Media Reform conference, this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity. This interactive town hall event will be distributed by an unprecedented collaboration of independent media including LinkTV, Free Speech TV, The National Radio Project and many more.

The first 150 guests to arrive will receive a free copy of Amy Goodman’s Standing Up To the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times courtesy of Progressive Book Club!
Free and Open! Doors open at 1 p.m.

Women’s Club of Minneapolis 410 Oak Grove Street, near Loring Park
Details including RSVP.

MnCOGI hosts the National Freedom of Information Coalition 2009!

Posted by: on Jun 2, 2008 | No Comments

The Board of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information is pleased to announce that we have been invited to play host to the 2009 national conference of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. This coalition of coalitions brings together a unique network of advocates committed to transparency in government and freedom of expression.

Each state projects a unique profile of membership, priorities and services, ranging from major organizations with large staffs and massive budgets to fledgling coalitions such as MnCOGI. Many are supported by mainstream media organizations, others by media attorneys, still others by foundations and individual/organizational memberships. All sponsor websites, most post blogs and each employs unique and creative strategies to address the common purpose of open government. Headquarters of the national coalition of coalitions is at the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

We look forward to this opportunity to define and articulate the mission of MnCOGI, to learn from other coalitions and to involve Minnesotans as speakers, panelists and attendees.

NFOIC members will be meeting in Minneapolis at the end of May or early June 2009. Any individual or organization interested in open government and First Amendment issues can get involved NOW. Specifics about the conference program and logistics will appear on this blog as they unfold.

For details of past NFOIC conferences check here. Good stuff!

COGI-tations – Patrice McDermott on June 9

Posted by: on May 19, 2008 | No Comments

COGI-tations: A program of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Patrice McDermott
Director, Open the Government

Monday, June 9, 2008 time: 5-7 p.m.

100 Murphy Hall, SJMC Conference Center
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
206 Church Street, Minneapolis
University of Minnesota East Bank Campus
( Parking in the Washington Ave or East River Road Ramp or try MTC! )

Since 2006 Patrice McDermott has been Director of Open the Government, one of Washington DC’s most effective advocacy organizations committed to transparency in government and an informed public. Previously Dr. McDermott served as Deputy Director of the Office of Government Relations at the American Library Association Washington Office and as the senior information policy analyst for OMB Watch.

Patrice earned her doctorate in political science from the University of Arizona and a Master of Science in Library and Information Management from Emory University. She is the author of several books including Who Needs to Know? The State of Public Access to Federal Government Information. Dr. McDermott is also a member of the prestigious National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame.

Sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information
Minnesota Journalism Center
Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law
Institute for New Media Studies
University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Free and Open to the Public Information: mncogi@gmail.com

The Journalism That Matters MInnesota Gathering

Posted by: on Apr 18, 2008 | No Comments

Here’s another great 21st century journalism conference coming to Minnesota on June 4-6. Here’s a quick blurb from their flyer and a link for more info

One of the first national gatherings for local, online citizen journalists and entrepreneurs,
sometimes called “placebloggers.” Designed for existing and prospective journalists and entrepreneurs. Learn more…

Media Reform conference set for Minneapolis June 6-8

Posted by: on Apr 17, 2008 | No Comments

The Media Reform conference set for Minneapolis June 6-8 is great in and of itself. Even more, it is the catalyst for a number of related gatherings, including a presentation by Patrice McDermott of Open the Government sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition on Government. Details on that TBA

Meantime, I’ve just learned of another really interesting pre-conference, aimed at the “New Pamphleteers” identified as Entrepreneurs Who Combine Journalism, Democracy, Place and Blogs” The conference, open to citizen journalists and those who care about informed citizen journalism, will be June 4-6 at the U of M Journalism Center. Planners have arranged a very attractive package deal for anyone registering for the pre-conference and the Media Reform conference itself. Details and registration

Keynote Address: “The Light at the End of the Tunnel: the Outlook for FOI.”

Posted by: on Apr 8, 2008 | No Comments

Keynote Address: “The Light at the End of the Tunnel: the Outlook for FOI.”
Presented by Jane E. Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota.

Delivered at the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information “Freedom of Information Day & Award Ceremony,” March 14, 2008, Minneapolis Central Library.

With higher temperatures and March sunshine, it really seems like our long Minnesota winter is coming to a close. This brings us a sense of optimism, and hope.

And it’s a metaphor for the future of freedom of information. I believe it is no coincidence that James Madison, drafter of the First Amendment, was born on March 16.

This year, for the first time in a long time, there seems to be a real prospect that transparency in government could be restored.

On the last day of 2007, President Bush signed the OPEN Government Act, making important procedural changes to strengthen the effectiveness of the Federal Freedom of Information Act. There are new penalties for agencies that drag their feet in replying to requests for records – or to put it in a more positive way, new incentives to encourage agencies to comply with the law in a timely fashion.

There is enhanced Congressional oversight – an essential to the proper functioning of FOIA, no matter who is in the White House and no matter which party is in the majority – because when the legislature fails to keep an eye on the executive branch, Freedom of Information is always at risk.

There is a new definition of “representative of the news media” – which is important, not because the press does or should have greater rights of access to government records than the rest of us, but because Congress recognizes that those who gather information in order to disseminate it to the widest possible audience deserve to receive fee breaks to make it possible for them to do so.

There are even new “public liaisons” for each agency, and a new FOI ombudsman to run interference between requesters and the government.

The bi-partisan team of Sen. Patrick Leahy and John Cornyn have joined forces again to introduce a new bill that will require members of Congress who introduce proposed legislation to create new exemptions to FOIA to “explicitly and clearly” state just that – in other words, to put a stop to the practice of burying stealth exemptions in complex bills.

These are all exciting and encouraging developments.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Eight years of government secrecy is not going to go away overnight. The rallying cry of 9/11 was the pretext for policies amounting to an information blackout on an unprecedented scale: secret intelligence, secret prisons, secret torture, secret trials, and secret surveillance – all in the name of protecting national security.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: secrecy does not equal security. In fact, it almost invariably undermines it.

We know that the current administration in Washington is hostile to the very idea of the public’s right to know. It is ironic that, less than a month after signing the OPEN Government Act, President Bush directed that the funding for that FOI ombudsman should be shifted from the independent National Archives and into the Department of Justice – a Department that, at least since October 2001, has demonstrated over and over again its contempt for open government and the public’s right to know.

This is the same Department that, instead of enforcing the FOIA, has zealously pursued leakers – people who have chosen to circumvent restrictive policies to make information to the public – and threatened those who receive leaks with prosecution under the Espionage laws.
This is the same Department that has condoned using sweeping subpoenas to try to force journalists to reveal their confidential sources – and not surprisingly, has obstinately opposed the enactment of a federal reporter’s shield law to protect journalists from the prospect of lengthy imprisonment or crippling monetary fines for simply doing their jobs.

Some will argue that the restrictions and secrecy were necessary. Others contend that they were purely opportunistic. Right or wrong, for better or worse, the tenure of this administration is coming to an end. Later this year, a national election will determine who will decide the future of FOI. Those who care about open government are hoping that the candidates will commit themselves to an agenda that will reject the directives, policies, and practices that have turned the executive branch into a virtual bunker of impenetrable secrecy, and reopen it to public scrutiny.

It is always risky to speculate about how a particular candidate will address these issues once he or she is in office. On the hustings, no candidate is against open government. Words like “accountability” and “transparency” may pepper their speeches. And, as they utter them, they may even believe them.

But I’ve observed government long enough to know that even the best intentions are often unfulfilled once an administration assumes office. Openness and accountability sound terrific in the abstract. But maintaining the commitment in the midst of the turmoil of political Washington is the challenge.

Nevertheless, I remain optimistic. A new generation of voters, who are accustomed to taking and sharing information through the Internet, will not settle, I predict, for business as usual. The old techniques of obfuscation and concealment simply won’t wash with young people who seek out the answers for themselves and who demand transparency from those who govern them.

That said, I do remain concerned about some things.

I worry that the judiciary, which for more than 75 years has maintained an almost unbroken tradition of expanding and enhancing the rights of freedom of speech, and of the press, is retrenching, rethinking, and in many cases, restricting those rights. Whether it is the failure to recognize a First Amendment-based reporters privilege, or a reluctance to allow meaningful access to digitized records because of theoretical concerns about security or privacy, or the continued refusal to expand the right of the public to observe judicial proceeding by allowing cameras into our courts – it all adds up to a net loss for the public’s right to know.

I worry that legitimate concerns about security at the upcoming Republican and Democratic National Conventions will prompt our law enforcement officials to extend and expand their surveillance activities in overly zealous and inappropriate ways that will intimidate and chill the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful protest.

And I worry that just at a time when my fellow citizens need in-depth news reporting – the news that is essential to making informed decisions – economic challenges will result in shrinking the resources that are necessary to support the kind of outstanding investigative reporting that we are honoring today.

You may share these worries. You may have others.

But however substantial and genuine these worries may be, I remain optimistic, because I recognize that those of us gathered here today, and many others like us around the state and around the nation, will not tolerate another decade of secrecy, predicated on fear.
So much of the secrecy that exists today was based on panic. It was justified as necessary to address threats on a scale that most of us found unfathomable – and terrifying. It shook our nation to the core.

But it is past time to get back to our first principles. It is past time to recognize that this nation is strong, that it was conceived in revolution, but born to live as a country bounded by the rule of law.

It is my hope that our return to these principles – our return to sanity – is already underway.
Our long journey through the dark tunnel of secrecy is coming to an end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Thank you.

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COGI-tations: A program of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Posted by: on Mar 19, 2008 | No Comments

James Nobles
Legislative Auditor, State of Minnesota
“Bringing Light to How Government Works”

Tuesday, April 8, 2008
5:00 p.m.

TIES Administrative Building
1667 Larpenteur (SW corner of Snelling & Larpenteur)
St. Paul

Since 1983, Jim Nobles has diligently served the State of Minnesota as Legislative Auditor. The nonpartisan Legislative Auditor provides a critical link between the inner workings of state government and the taxpayers.

The work of the Legislative Auditor includes financial audits, program evaluations, and special reviews in cases of alleged misuse of state funds or resources, or alleged violations of the state code of conduct for employees in the Executive Branch. The Legislative Auditor’s authority extends to virtually all state funded programs and studies that affect state government. As we have recently seen in the news, audits in progress include the state’s JOBZ program, Green Acres and agricultural land preservation programs, charter schools, PERA and financial management of healthcare programs. We can also expect a legislative audit of our state’s highways and bridges to be released soon.

Though reports of the Legislative Auditor may at times escape the headlines, they capture the attention of elected officials, bureaucrats and advocacy groups because of the critical watchdog function played by Nobles’ office.

Come meet Jim Nobles and learn more about the mission of this unique agent of openness, who is responsible to a great extent for transparency in government, for public disclosure of problems, and for investigative reports essential to an informed citizenry.

Co-sponsored by
Common Cause Minnesota &
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Free and open to the public