One amazing service that the media provides to the general public is making sure the government is accountable. Whether We The People widely realize it or not, our nation’s political scenes sometimes harbor secrets where hard-working journalists are the only ones who stand between U.S. & “Them.” In this case, “Them” denotes foreign countries without a free press that sadly constitute most parts of the world.
- Public Records
- New York
- Digital database of official public records requests
- Background checks and criminal records
- Court documents and records search
- What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and why is it important?
- Newspapers provide a public record of our history
Why else did United Nations delegates feel such urgent need to draft a formal written Universal Human Rights Declaration that states in relevant part?
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; … [including] … freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart … and ideas [via] any media … frontiers.”
Only one truthful reply can possibly exist to the above-posed question that’s equally obvious and painfully simple: Countries where there’s no such thing as a free press are run by dictators or totalitarian regimes that rule through control of the media.
Various “open public records access” legislation have very few true practical virtues
As a show of genuine commitment and appreciation for the core values espoused via the U.N. Human Rights Declaration cited above, governments across the globe have enacted laws with the stated purpose of enhancing official transparency.
Based on consistent rankings published in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) estimates that over 1/3 of the world’s population have no access to a free press. Not surprisingly, those nations are overwhelmingly non-democratic or are severely deficient “democracies”.
Still another source with a well-established sterling reputation made similar reports. Freedom House is a non-government private organization based in the U.S. that publishes an annual ranking of world nations by relative press freedom and editorial independence titled “Freedom of the Press”.
Based on cumulative points assigned in three different geographic criteria that include legal, social and political environments, nations are rated as “Free,” “Partly Free,” or Not Free.” Although rated “Free” in the 2015 Freedom of the Press edition, the U.S. scored a total of 22 points, most of which were accrued for an adverse political climate.
Two Dismal U.S. Press Freedom Factors
Even a relatively cursory review reveals recurring themes between lines of recently published research that consistently finds decreasingly free press in the U.S. More specifically, two main causal factors blamed are Barak Obama’s broken campaign promises and journalists who were slain or complained.
The foremost blamed culprit is the Obama Administration’s FOIA violations – despite ardent election campaign promises that his presidency would be the most transparent one ever. Besides an unprecedented number of official documents withheld despite legally compelled disclosure, Obama received lots of negative publicity for “media nepotism”. By widespread credible report, Obama has an unofficial official policy of selective press interviews with politically friendly news reporters.
Offender number two is named twice on most credible lists. Its first reference was 2014 when New York Times investigative journalist James Risen was harassed by a federal judge in relation to the trial of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling who allegedly violated the Espionage Act by providing Risen with classified information. The next most frequent citation is dated the same year when 15 or more newspaper reporters were arrested without cause while covering public demonstrations to protest the death of African American teen Michael Brown, who was shot by a white cop in Ferguson, MO.
Role of News Media Open Records Access in Official Accountability
A scholarly journal essay by Yale University Constitutional Law Professor Jack M. Balkin posited three distinct levels of media contribution to government transparency. Balkin dubs his theoretical precept, “informational transparency”, that facilitates public knowledge of pertinent events and current political developments. The second concept is “participatory transparency”, which denotes greater citizen engagement with governmental affairs. Finally, there’s “accountability transparency” that enables the public to hold public officials accountable who break their own laws or otherwise act contrary to public interests. Based on well-documented empirical data, Balkin concluded with solid confirmation of his starting hypothesis by stating explicitly:
“Today political transparency is virtually impossible without some form of mass media coverage” (emphasis added).
This statement in turn necessarily subsumes an obvious conclusion that logically presumes specific means exist by which media enhance transparency accountability. Balkin refers to that means by inference in the following statement:
“…[P]oliticians may find it useful to simulate political virtues of transparency through rhetorical … manipulation”.
Perhaps the surest way to disprove any misrepresentation is self-impeachment. That’s best done prior to contrary representations with supporting documentation. Which is precisely where public records come into play for effective investigative journalism.
As one source so aptly notes, Democracy relies on political participation, via an informed electorate with accessible knowledge of its government. Citizens reply on journalist proxies for access to police reports, local budgets, property tax records, bridge inspections, proposed project feasibility studies and other public documents. Absent such fully open accessibility, public ability to hold government officials fully accountable is seriously compromised.