SPJ Sends Letter to Congressional Leaders

In a letter of support for C-SPAN’s recent request to Congress to open up media coverage of health care legislative negotiations,the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has fired off a similar letter to congressional leaders.

SPJ sent the letter in support of C-SPAN’s letter to leaders from CEO Brian Lamb. Though House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has supported the request publicly, the issue is still in limbo.

Read SPJ’s letter after the jump…

Dear Speaker Pelosi:
Representative Boehner:
Senator Reid:
Senator McConnell:

The Society of Professional Journalists strongly urges the House and Senate to reconcile differences between health care bills, including negotiations, conference committee meetings and discussions with the White House, openly. The public trust will be won only through transparency – the live reporting of discussions by C-SPAN and other media.

We realize such negotiations are sensitive and that Congress prefers to conduct negotiations in private to foster frank discussion, but the health-care legislation is too important to the American people to craft in secret. Every day in newspaper editorial pages across the country people from all partisan philosophies are expressing their intense interest in this issue and their hunger for information. They want to see the sausage being made. Legislation developed behind closed doors fuels paranoia, mistrust and contempt by citizens for Congress and the president.

We also see this as an opportunity for Congress to begin doing something that takes place every week in every city in America: openly formulate legislation. Throughout the country, town councils, school boards and other local governing bodies are required by state open meeting laws to hold committee meetings in public – essentially their caucuses and negotiations to formulate legislation. Draft ordinance language is debated for all to see so that citizens can understand how it was developed before it goes to full debate and a vote. Even some state legislatures hold caucus discussions and conference committee meetings openly.

We have heard promises by President Obama and congressional leaders of how the process in this historic revamping of the health care system will be transparent, but televised public forums and floor debates are not enough. The American people want to see the most important part of the process for themselves. Televise the negotiations live and you will embark on a new era of openness, accountability and public trust in America.

Kevin Smith, President
Society of Professional Journalists