Media Law Case of the Week

Any guesses which state has had more than one thousand complaints about public officials refusing requests for information since 2005?

If you guessed Illinois, you are correct.

This week’s Media Law Case of the Week  focuses on an excellent Chicago Tribune story citing many cases

magnifying glass

magnifying glass

in which citizens were denied information from school and government officials — information that the citizens sought through public records laws.

Reporter David Kidwell writes:

A review of those complaints, along with dozens of interviews, reveals a culture of secrecy shrouding the machinery of your government. Public meetings are often theater, where votes are pro forma endorsements of decisions forged in e-mails and memos you will never be allowed to see.

Government records routinely turned over at the front counters in many other states are routinely denied here — the result of a notoriously weak open records law, an unsympathetic political culture and an attitude of disdain among many public servants who consider documents their own.

If you think those words are harsh, read the story. Kidwell offers ample evidence to support the claims.

And the Tribune is offering an “Open Records Help Desk,” a web page devoted to giving readers tips for requesting information and a database of complaints.

This is exactly the kind of watchdog reporting we need in this country. My only hope is that Kidwell is not among the Tribune staffers let go, and that news organizations still have enough journalists to do this work.

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