National Press Club

Club Institute and media lawyers launch tracker for denials of media access to governments

August 11, 2017 | By Kathy Kiely | kkiely@press.org

The National Press Club Journalism Institute and the Media Law Resource Center have launched an effort to monitor day-to-day impediments facing journalists covering federal, state and local government.

The Institute has created a simple online form that anyone can fill out any time a public official is muzzled, government data is denied or other types of information that belong to the public are kept from the public. Worried about leaving digital fingerprints? Mail us:

Press Freedom Fellow
National Press Club Journalism Institute
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20045

Through the work of the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Team and the Club Journalism Institute, we have been outspoken about physical threats to journalists, including one of own members.

But there are other — perhaps more insidious because they are less sensational — threats to our democracy that must be documented if we are to make the case for preserving the public’s right to know.

As media lawyer Chuck Tobin, a member of the Press Freedom Team and the Institute's board of directors puts it, “Democracy dies when government sources dry up, whether that’s through one closed meeting, one shuttered database or one runaway leaks investigation at a time.”

“It is easy to disregard an individual refusal to grant an interview, or a single denial of a records request, as the type of obstacle that journalists encounter every day,” said Jeff Hermes, deputy director of the Media Law Resource Center. “But when we can see that these incidents form a pattern of blocking access to government, free speech advocates must take notice.”

The Institute believe it is our patriotic duty to do so.

“When it comes to democracy, journalists are the canaries in the mine shaft,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the Institute's board of directors. “The troubles they are having accessing information are just an early indicator that the public needs to be alarmed.”

The Institute intends to share the tracking data with other organizations, including our partners on the newly launched Press Freedom Tracker as well as the Investigative Reporters and Editors, which has launched an effort to keep public data online.

The questionnaire covers denial of access at the federal, state and local level. We will be working with journalism organizations and teachers across the country to make this link widely available to working reporters.

Media lawyers will use this information, where appropriate, to guide their efforts and to support legal cases demanding more transparency in government and public access. And journalists can use it to raise awareness beyond the newsroom.

“This is not a fight for media access to information,” said Cochran. “It is a fight for public access.”