The Associated Press’ president and CEO Tom Curley spoke before the Kentucky Press Association today, emphasizing the importance of the Freedom of Information Act and a free press.
Curley focused on the AP’s insistence on gaining access to federal documents, and going to court to get access when necessary. “AP went to court in nearly 40 cases in the past year, either by itself or in collaboration with other news organizations, to clear the path to information or proceedings the public was entitled to hear about,” he said.
After listing some of the many cases where the AP has successfully fought for the right to access to information, Curley also touched upon the importance of fighting for laws that will keep access to that information available:
“In these changing times, all the old rules and all the old tools still apply…shoe leather, digging, developing sources, skepticism, shrewdness and intuition. And these days we also can make use of new tools..databases, statistical analysis, social networking, and all the research skills it takes to extract newsworthy information from them.”
“There’s one other important item in the journalistic tool kit we usually don’t discuss in settings like these and too often take for granted. They’re the laws of the land — the First Amendment certainly, but also the many hundreds of statutes and the many thousands of court rulings that give reporters and everybody else the right to find out and talk or write about what our governments and our political leaders are up to.
Using law to obtain access to the news is journalism by other means. Influencing the development of the law so that it favors open government is a crucial part of what keeps a free press functioning.”
Freedom of the press is as important today as it’s always been, and perhaps even more important now that there are so many more news outlets to choose from. With so many journalists in the fray, there’s no excuse for not fighting for access to important documents that the government and its leaders would rather we not uncover. But the little guys — bloggers, citizen journalists and even small town papers — can’t do it alone. Big new organizations like the AP have the resources to push the FOIA issue, bring hidden facts to light and fight for the rights of the press as a whole. Although Curley highlighted the role that the AP has played in this up to this point, he mentioned that non-profit organizations may pick up the mantle in the future:
“And it may turn out that as the online news industry takes further shape, the model that works might be one or more free-standing not-for-profit entities whose mission would be to advance the law of free media and open government through litigation and lobbying.”
Read more: The full text of Curley’s speech