The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and eight media organizations have filed a brief in D.C. appeals court arguing for a ruling that would take a broad view of who is a “representative of the news media” when it comes to Freedom of Information Act fee waivers.
When Cause of Action filed a FOIA request with the Federal Trade Commission, the government accountability group asked for a news media fee waiver based on the fact that it maintains a website with news updates and an electronic newsletter. Barring that, COA requested a public interest fee waiver. Both were denied, and that decision was upheld by the federal District Court in D.C.
“This case centers on a question that strikes at one of the central accountability principles of democratic government: how far government agencies and the courts can go in defining what is ‘news’ and of ‘public interest,’ and this merits disclosure without hefty fees to the requestor,” the Reporters Committee brief states. Because of its potential impact on emerging news media, this case, “has implications beyond the outcome for the parties directly involved, and could make it difficult for the news media to fully report on the workings of government for the benefit of the public.”
The news media friend-of-the-court brief argues that ruling in COA’s favor would not only be in line with Congress’ goal of better government transparency when it passed the law, but it would also be crucial to ensuring that emerging online journalists are included in the definition of news media.
“Despite the best efforts of Congress to emphasize how important it is to broadly define ‘representative of the news media’ for the purposes of a FOIA fee waiver, courts and government agencies have continued to apply inappropriately narrow definitions,” the brief argues. “This Court should ensure that the standard applied aligns with what Congress intended and what best serves FOIA’s goals of government transparency and accountability.”
Joining the Reporters Committee on the brief were the First Amendment Coalition, Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, National Press Photographers Association, National Public Radio Inc., North Jersey Media Group Inc., The Seattle Times Company, Stephens Media LLC, and The Washington Post.
The brief is posted on the Reporters Committee website.
About the Reporters Committee
Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.
Related Reporters Committee resources: