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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Journalists should be willing to fight for strong laws protecting open access to government even as the news industry struggles in a weak economy, the top executive of The Associated Press said in a speech to a Kentucky newspaper organization Friday.
Tom Curley, chief executive of the AP, said that strong open-access laws are important items in the “journalistic tool kit,” but that journalists have often taken them for granted.
Journalists need to push before Congress and state legislatures changes that would make government more open and resist efforts to let government keep secrets, Curley said in a speech to the Kentucky Press Association.
“Perhaps the reluctance of journalists to fight openly for laws that better reflect the spirit and the intent of the First Amendment was partly responsible in the years following 9/11 for all of the information that ended up behind closed doors,” he said.
The First Amendment’s protection for a free press, he said, “doesn’t enforce itself.”
“It’s an impressive edifice and it is no accident,” he said. “It is also terribly vulnerable. It has been under challenge throughout its existence and it is still under challenge every day.”
Curley touted a coalition called the Sunshine in Government Initiative that was created to push Congress to strengthen laws promoting government transparency. He said the coalition is turning its attention to fight provisions often buried deep in complex legislation that exempt certain information from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
As the news industry continues to battle tough financial problems and other institutions that have defended open government wane, Curley suggested enlisting online news organizations into the access fight and exploring models that use free-standing, not-for-profit entities to lobby lawmakers and wage the fight in court.