“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Article One enshrines the citizen’s toolkit for responsive government as the supreme law of the land. In a speech before the National Bar Association, Hon. Herbert Brownell, Jr. (Then Attorney General of the United States under President Dwight Eisenhower) said, “…when the press is free from censorship and suppression, it tends to assure the telling of the truth – an eternal bulwark against tyranny and dictatorship.”
A Question of Access
A journalist’s hands are tied without access to information about what the government is doing on behalf of its citizens. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press finds that in the United States this access is grounded in the First Amendment’s free press provisions, Common Law, Federal Freedom of Information Act, and state open meeting laws.
Maryland Attorney General, Douglas F. Gansler writes that, “The public’s right to information about government activities lies at the heart of a democratic government.”
Maryland’s Public Information Act is comprehensive, allowing any person access to any public record. The Maryland Public Information Act Manual holds that “a person need not justify or explain a request to inspect records.” As in many areas of life, there are exceptions to the rule. Chapter 3 of the manual in addition to listing the exceptions provides that “these exceptions should be construed narrowly.”
The Maryland Open Meetings Act Manual establishes that the general rule is that if a public body is meeting and the subject matter is covered by the Open Meetings Act, the body must meet in open session.”
The Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) is the development arm of city government. It provides contract “economic development services” to Baltimore City. The organization’s close relationship with the city is highlighted by its rank in returned search results for the term, “development” on the city’s website. It is number one.
The need for an outside development arm is subject to disagreement among reasonable people. A more pertinent question for citizens, journalists, and legislators to consider is one of open access.
In an email interview 11th District Baltimore City Councilman William Cole noted the importance of transparency by saying, “Any agency that is using public dollars should be subject to open meetings act requirements.” He has a court ruling to back him up. In a case involving condemnation under eminent domain The Washington Examiner reported that the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled, “papers and meetings of the Baltimore Development Corp. must be open to the public.”
Are Bloggers Journalists
Where do bloggers fit in this picture? Are they journalists or private citizens commenting on the affairs of the day? It depends on whom you ask.
The question commonly arises around shield laws. According to Bloggers Beware, a Harvard blog, “more than 30 states currently have shield laws that provide some protection to ‘journalists’.” Of concern to bloggers, however, is the definition of journalist. The article also says, “Many of these laws, however, are in need of updating as they limit their application only to individuals who have a professional affiliation with an established media entity or require “regular” employment as a journalist. Some even expressly exclude broadcast and electronic media.”
Maryland’s shield law is a case in point. According to a report at the Student Press Law Center, the state reformed its law to include supervised journalism students, but did not include bloggers in its definition. The report noted that Delegate Sandy Rosenberg(D) “said that he had tried in the past to introduce legislation that would protect bloggers with no success, but that pending Congress’ decision on a federal shield bill, he would consider making another attempt.”
Closer to home Councilman Cole responded when asked if he considered bloggers journalists, “No. Most of the “news” blogs are pure opinion pieces with little to no fact checking or research. That’s not to say that the bloggers aren’t well-intentioned or that traditional media doesn’t get it wrong sometimes, too. It’s just not fair to call the medium journalism. I’d say the exception might be places like baltimorebrew or the patch which does have some editorial control.”
Bloggers, what do you think, are you a journalist? What steps do bloggers need to take to increase our credibility in the media marketplace? Blog readers, what do you expect out of blog? Share your views.