APME signs on to transparency letters
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Posted by: Angie Muhs
The Associated Press Media Editors endorsed this week a congressional effort aimed at updating the federal Freedom of Information Act and codifying the presumption of openness under the law.
APME joined other open-government and news organizations in signing a letter of support for the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act (HR 653) and the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015 (S 337). The letter was spearheaded by OpenTheGovernment.org.
Both pieces of legislation would require records to be released unless there is a foreseeable harm or legal requirement to withhold them; improve public access to released records; restrict and ultimately end the use of the “withhold it because you want to” exemption; and clarify and reform the fees assessed by agencies.
APME also signed on to a letter opposing a permit and fee requirement for “professional” photographers on public parkland in Fairfax County, Va. The letter was drafted by National Press Photographers Association general counsel Mickey Osterreicher and signed by at least 10 other news and photography organizations.
The Fairfax County Park Authority proposes to require permits and fees for professional photographers that would limit photography to scheduled times and places. The permit process would involve a 5-day wait before a permit is granted. “Amateur” photographers would not be required to obtain permits.
The NPPA letter says the proposed rules “create an unnecessary and burdensome distinction between amateur and professional photographers.”
The letter notes that NPPA and other groups, including APME, objected earlier this year to proposed federal rules that would impose similar burdens and distinctions on U.S. parkland.
In both the U.S. and Fairfax County instances, APME and the other co-signers believe that the focus should be on whether the activity places an unusual burden on the land. Other major U.S. cities have adopted a similar approach, which the co-signers believe protects the constitutional rights of all parties.
The letter opposing the Fairfax County rules also notes that the 5-day processing period for a permit creates a potential unconstitutional prior restraint on all photography.
The letter encourages Fairfax County officials to revise its proposed rules that clearly protects park resources and First Amendment guarantees.
In the FOIA letter, which will be sent to individual senators and representatives, APME and other groups thanks Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who introduced the legislation, for their leadership and perseverance.
The letter goes on to encourage Congress and President Obama to demonstrate the same commitments to good governance and public oversight.