Monday, January 25, 2010

Mississippi journalists fight government secrecy

The Rural Blog reports that the Mississippi Press Association, The Associated Press and the state's freedom-of-information center are teaming up in another effort to fight government secrecy. To see the story, go to

Friday, January 22, 2010

AP chief says journalism includes using open-government laws and fighting for better ones

Using freedom-of-information laws and fighting for stronger ones is "journalism by other means" and should be an essential function for journalists, their employers and their membership organizations, Tom Curley, president of The Associated Press, told the Kentucky Press Association today.

Keynoting KPA's convention at the Embassy Suites in Lexington, Curley said America's broad body of statutory and case law for open government is "terribly vulnerable" because of changes in the friendly "ecosystem" that has built "this fragile edifice of laws and rules." He said the ecosystem includes news organizations that are suffering financial pressure and journalism organizations that are seeing their membership ranks wither. Also, "Courts and judges, sometimes at the highest level, are part of the problem they are supposed to help us solve," Curley said.

Curley said that in tough economic times, when so much emphasis is on maintaining audience and generating revenue, he was glad to see the KPA convention had several sessions related to freedom of information. The centerpiece of the program was the Better Watchdog Workshop of Investigative Reporters and Editors, aimed at helping newspapers do better watchdog journalism about government and other institutions.

The convention concludes tonight with the annual awards banquet. At the luncheon where Curley spoke, the Lexington Herald-Leader presented its annual Lewis Owens Community Service Award to the Beattyville Enterprise, a small weekly paper that continued publishing after its offices were destroyed by fire. "We are all inspired by your story," Curley told Enterprise Editor Edmund Shelby, who completed his year as KPA president at the event. The new president is Chip Hutcheson of The Times Leader in Princeton.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Attorney general approves Hopkinsville council's vague motion for 'appropriate legal action'

The Hopkinsville City Council was justified in deliberately leaving vague its motion to take action after a closed discussion because the matter involved legal strategy, the state attorney general's office has ruled.

The Kentucky New Era newspaper had complained that the council, which met in closed session to discuss litigation with AT&T, had "violated the spirit and foundation of Kentucky's Open Meetings Act" when it voted only to "take appropriate legal action" following the secret discussion. The attorney general's decision said that while "such a vaguely worded motion might, under a different set of facts, represent little more than a strategem to 'shield the agency from unwanted or unleasant pulbic input, interference or scrutiny'," in this case the council was justified in trying to protect its legal strategy, and therefore did not violate the law.

For a full text of this and other recent attorney general rulings, see Links of Interest below. The opinion is 10-OMD-007.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hopkinsville appeals attorney general's decision, fights to keep certain police records secret

The city of Hopkinsville has appealed an attorney general's decision that city officials should give the Kentucky New Era with certain police records that the city says it does not have to disclose.

The newspaper asked city police for reports "referencing any threats made in Hopkinsville during an eight month period," Julia Hunter of the New Era writes. "City Clerk Crissy Upton provided more than 400 reports, but withheld all reports regarding juveniles, any reports under investigation and redacted “personal information” of victims and offenders. The information redacted included gender, race, ethnicity and addresses."

The New Era appealed to the attorney general's office. In December, Attorney General Jack Conway agreed with the newspaper, saying the city has failed to justify its stance with specific arguments. The appeal goes to Circuit Judge Andrew Self.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Foundation gives $2 million for open-records battles

Battles for freedom of information often stop for lack of financial ammunition. Now help may be available, thanks to a three-year, $2 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

The grant will create the Knight FOI Fund, which "will fund up-front costs such as court costs, filing fees, depositions and initial consultation fees, if attorneys are willing to take cases that otherwise would go unfiled," NFOIC announced. The grant application was prompted by an NFOIC survey that found almost 80 percent of its members' lawsuits to open public records in their states had become less numerous, and 60 percent said it had dropped dramatically. And 85 percent predicted that FOI litigation would drop dramatically over the next three years. NFOIC blamed "the economic crisis and the evolution of the news media" and cited several specific examples in its release.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Paper entitled to records on county loan to rival, or a better reason why kept secret, AG says

The McCreary County Fiscal Court and the county Industrial Development Authority need to give one of the county's newspapers records relating to a $60,000 loan the county made to the other paper to start a television station, or they must explain why it shouldn't, the office of the attorney general ruled in an open-records decision released today.

The McCreary County Record asked County Judge-Executive Blaine Phillips for "any documentation concerning a loan to The McCreary County Voice and/or its agent, Patricia Stephens." Phillips declined, citing to News Editor Janie Slaven the exception in the Open Records Act for "records confidentially disclosed to an agency or required by an agency to be disclosed to it, generally recognized as confidential or proprietary, which are compiled and maintained in conjunction with an application for or the administration of a loan or grant."

The decision, written by Assistant Attorney General Amye Bensenhaver, said, "While it is possible that some records, or portions of records, submitted by the loan applicant, such as financial statements or a description of the applicants’ financial stability, may qualify for protection . . . KRS 61.880(2)(c) assigns the burden of proof in sustaining the denials of Ms. Slaven’s requests to the agencies, and no proof of any kind is submitted in support of those denials. It is for this reason that the agencies’ responses are both procedurally and substantively deficient."

The decision puts the ball back in the county's court, to turn over the records, give a more detailed reason or challenge the opinion in circuit court. Here is the Record's Nov. 25 report on the loan. The Voice Web site is at