Wednesday, February 16, 2005

OPEN Government Act appears to protect bloggers as members of media

The bipartisan OPEN Government Act filed today by U.S. senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) would appear to protect bloggers from excessive fees under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Present law provides that for representatives of the news media, "fees shall be limited to reasonable standard charges for document duplication."

The bill filed today expands the definition of news media as follows:
"In making a determination of a representative of the news media ..., an agency may not deny that status solely on the basis of the absence of institutional associations of the requester, but shall consider the prior publication history of the requester. Prior publication history shall include books, magazine and newspaper articles, newsletters, television and radio broadcasts, and Internet publications. If the requestor has no prior publication history or current affiliation, the agency shall consider the requester's stated intent at the time the request is made to distribute information to a reasonably broad audience."
Under this language, one would need not be affiliated with an "institutional" news outlet to be considered a member of the news media, particularly if the person could show a history of publishing, including publishing on the Internet. Even in the absence of a publishing history, one could be considered a member of the news media if the information were sought with the intent of distributing it "to a reasonably broad audience."

A reasonable reading of this language would be that it would apply to bloggers, since they can demonstrate a history of publishing and of distribution to a reasonably broad audience.

The bill, S. 394, is aimed at substantially enhancing and expanding the accessibility, accountability and openness of the federal government. Its full name is the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2005.

Among the groups supporting it are the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the ACLU.

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