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    Bush Signs FOIA Reform Bill Benefitting Bloggers

    by David Ardia
    January 1, 2008

    In one of his last executive actions of the year, President Bush signed into law the “OPEN Government Act of 2007
    on December 31, 2007. The Senate unanimously passed the reform bill
    earlier in December, and it passed the House of Representatives by
    voice vote on December 18. The Associated Press is reporting that Bush signed the bill without comment.

    As I explained in a post on the Citizen Media Law Project’s blog two weeks ago, the legislation substantially reforms the Freedom of
    Information Act and expands the definition of who is a “representative
    of the news media” under FOIA. This change would significantly benefit
    bloggers and non-traditional journalists by making them eligible for
    reduced processing and duplication fees that are available to
    “representatives of the news media.”  The new law accomplishes this by
    adding the following language to FOIA:

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    [T]he term ‘a representative of the news
    media’ means any person or entity that gathers information of potential
    interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn
    the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an
    audience. In this clause, the term ‘news’ means information that is
    about current events or that would be of current interest to the
    public. Examples of news-media entities are television or radio
    stations broadcasting to the public at large and publishers of
    periodicals (but only if such entities qualify as disseminators of
    ‘news’) who make their products available for purchase by or
    subscription by or free distribution to the general public. These
    examples are not all-inclusive. Moreover, as methods of news delivery
    evolve (for example, the adoption of the electronic dissemination of
    newspapers through telecommunications services), such alternative media
    shall be considered to be news-media entities.

    Other important reforms include:

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    • Broadening the scope of information that can be requested by
      including government contracting information held by private
      contractors;
    • Assigning public tracking numbers to all requests;
    • Denying agencies
      that exceed the 20-day deadline for responses the right
      to charge requesters for search or copying costs;
    • Making it easier to collect attorneys’ fees for those who must sue to force compliance with their FOIA requests; and
    • Establishing
      an office at the National Archives to accept citizen complaints, issue
      opinions on requests, and foster best practices within the government.

    The full text of the OPEN Government Act of 2007 is available here. The press release announcing the President’s signing is available on the White House website.

    Tagged: bloggers citizen journalism cmlp FOIA newsgathering
    • When the President signed the Open Government Act of 2007 in the 11th Hour, he did nonetheless crack the door. It will take a full year for Government to become “open,” with the built in12 month delay in the in new law, but it will open the door. For the first time since the original act was implemented, federal government officials can be held accountable for violating the law. Had this new act been in place last year, the officials that used and twisted the act to keep documents out of the hands of a Coast Guard employee would be on a Federal Court Docket trying to stave off fines and jail time. TJ
      And as a blogger am I a journalist? I certainly have more readers in more countries around the world than many small papers I’m aware of. My site stats support that.

    • For starters, duplicate content could never have been considered a problem, despite the fact that bloggers can now also be labeled as journalists. As with so many things over the years, the term journalist is now starting to enter a gray area of definition as brought on by the blogging platform available to anyone. It’s very interesting to note that, as Thomas said, we as bloggers certainly have a much wider exposure and reach than conventional journalists, making it a medium that was rightfully addressed by the government.

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