Open Government Canada

Mandate Committee Report

This report includes the outcome of resolutions taken to the OGC founding conference on March 10-11, 2000 in Toronto.

Although some of the resolutions were withdrawn or altered, they have been left intact in this report to form part of OGC's founding records. The modified resolutions are contained in the summary of recommendations 

Minutes of the conference will be posted at a later date.

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 Table of Contents

1.1  Executive Summary

1.2  Summary of Recommendations (Includes results from OGC conference)

1.3  Acknowledgements

2.0 Mission/Role

2.1 Canada

2.2 United States

2.3 United Kingdom

2.4 Projects

2.5 Recommendations

 

3.0 Membership

3.1 Common goals

3.2 Coalition model

3.3 Criteria

3.4 Tiers/Benefits

3.5 Recommendations

 

4.0 Structure/Board of Directors

4.1 Status

4.2 NFOIC

4.3 Board of Directors

4.4 Staff/Office

4.5 Meetings

4.6 Proposal

4.7 Recommendations

 

5.0 Funding

5.1 Membership Fees

5.2 Fund-raising

5.3 Recommendations

 

6.0 Constitution/Bylaws

6.1 Non-profit Organizations

6.2 Recommendations

 

7.0 Appendix A: Mission and Role of Key Groups Involved in Freedom of Information


1.1 Executive Summary

Canada, unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, lacks a national organization devoted exclusively to freedom of information issues.

Successful advocacy efforts in the area of FOI have generally emerged from a coalition model that includes parties with public-interest objectives.

Many Canadian organizations and individuals use federal and provincial freedom of information laws for research in the public interest. They include lobby groups, news media, historians, other academics, librarians, archivists, lawyers and individual researchers.

Open Government Canada proposes to bring together these groups and individuals in a coalition that would serve as a common voice for members on FOI issues, press for legislative and policy changes that foster the public’s right to know, help organize regional information groups and educate people about access procedures.

Effective FOI organizations benefit from the strength of existing local, regional and national groups as well as a governing structure that includes a board of directors.

The U.S. National Freedom of Information Coalition and its state-level members serve as models for OGC. However, the value of these models is limited by national differences, namely the greater emphasis on freedom of speech (First Amendment rights) in the United States and the more liberal U.S. definition of charitable activities, which enhances the ability of American FOI organizations to raise money.

A non-profit organization such as Open Government Canada generally requires an annual budget of $75,000 to $150,000, depending on resource and staffing levels. Membership fees are a prime source of funding, though other avenues of raising money appear limited. Creating sustainable membership and funding bases will likely be OGC’s most formidable challenges.

The constitution or bylaws of an FOI coalition govern the organization’s procedures concerning virtually all key issues, including mission, membership, structure and funding.

The committee makes several recommendations aimed at defining the purpose, scope, composition, structure, funding and activities of Open Government Canada, including the development of a formal proposal that would serve as an invitation to prospective members.

1.2 Summary of Recommendations  

(This includes outcomes of resolutions taken to the OGC founding conference on March 10-11, 2000)

The committee recommends Open Government Canada:

1. Adopt the following mission statement —

Open Government Canada is a coalition of organizations and individuals interested in maintaining and strengthening access to information rights in Canada. The coalition supports a common voice for those whose interest in access stems from their public interest role in society. The group seeks to bring about legislative and policy changes that reduce undue government secrecy and foster the public’s right to know about the institutions, agencies and services it funds and relies upon. OGC helps organize and co-operates with regional and local access to information groups on projects, information sharing and fund-raising. It also seeks to increase use of Canada’s access procedures by providing resources, education and assistance.  MODIFIED AND SHORTENED to:

"Open Government Canada is a coalition dedicated to improving access to public information in Canada. It provides education and assistance to support informed participation in society." (ADOPTED.)

2. Strike a committee to assess and report on MP John Bryden’s private bill to amend the federal Access to Information Act. (WITHDRAWN)

3. Explore potential educational initiatives and public projects, including completion of the CAJ letter generator, a regular newsletter and Web-based archives.  

(WITHDRAWN:  will be dealt with by steering committee.)

4. Develop membership criteria that suit the coalition model, including rules concerning eligibility, fees and benefits.(WITHDRAWN:  will be dealt with by steering committee.)

5. Examine the viability of incorporating as a non-profit organization and establishing a partner charitable entity. (WITHDRAWN:  will be dealt with by steering committee.)

6. Appoint a steering committee to fulfil the responsibilities of the board of directors until a permanent board can be elected. (ADOPTED. See Steering Committee List.)

7. Ensure the elected board of directors represents the diversity of Canada as well as the key constituencies of OGC’s membership.  (ADOPTED)

8. Develop a formal proposal, under the direction of the steering committee, setting out the planned structure, goals and strategies of Open Government Canada for the purposes of inviting members to join. (ADOPTED)

9. Strike a committee to report on potential funding sources and projects that would contribute to OGC’s long-term sustainability. (MODIFIED to include " . . . and implement the appropriate structure." ADOPTED)

10. Determine the requirements for a constitution and/or bylaws, and ensure the constitution/bylaws govern the participation of OGC’s provincial and territorial chapters.  (WITHDRAWN:  will be dealt with by steering committee.)

1.3 Acknowledgements

 The mandate committee members who contributed to this report were Jim Bronskill, Mike Gordon, Dean Jobb, Michel-Adrien Sheppard and Michael Morris.

The committee also benefited from the comments and advice of several people, including Jeff Lee, Robert Cribb, Lisa Roberts, Duff Conacher, Tom Riley, Andrew Hubbertz, Nancy Monson, Michael Dagg and Ken Rubin.

2.0 Mission/Role

Canada lags behind the United States and the United Kingdom in the area of freedom of information advocacy.

2.1       Canada

There is no national organization in Canada devoted solely to freedom of information issues. Some groups address FOI issues as part of their mandate but largely as a secondary concern in terms of time, financial resources and personnel.

Canadian organizations seldom emphasize litigation or legal assistance to individuals or groups that are thwarted in their attempts to gain access to publicly held information.

FOI issues receive relatively scant attention in academic circles or at think-tanks in this country.

In many provinces, privacy and access legislation are one and the same, creating the potential for confusion in the minds of many people and the fear that the push for stronger access laws could mean access to the private information of ordinary citizens.

The Campaign for Open Government was a failed 1994 attempt to create a Canadian FOI coalition. Organizational difficulties, lack of funding and the absence of a clear program of objectives prevented the effort from succeeding.

2.2       United States

Several organizations are openly devoted to freedom of information issues in the United States: national coalitions, academic institutes and archives, think-tanks, well-funded private foundations, law firms and professional journalism organizations. In effect, there is an “FOI community’’ with deep roots and a wide range of complementary perspectives and approaches.

Freedom of information is considered to be a constituent element of American political culture, on par with freedom of the press, freedom of speech (First Amendment) and separation of church and state. Government information is seen as belonging to the people.

American organizations have no qualms about launching lawsuits, even against the most powerful institutions, such as the White House, Pentagon and CIA. The philosophy seems to be: attack or risk falling behind. The media have played a strong role during the last three decades in fighting government secrecy.

Interest in FOI often extends to broader principles such as the right to attend meetings of public bodies, access to judicial proceedings or files, freedom of speech (including leaflets, petitions, pickets and parades) as well as defence of libel suits.

Many U.S. organizations are broad-based and try to bring together lawyers, journalists, archivists, historical researchers, academics, other requesters and government access co-ordinators.

The National Freedom of Information Coalition, a loosely knit group of autonomous state-level organizations, helps protect the public’s right to know through education, organizational support, joint fund-raising efforts and preparation of publications.

U.S. groups generally play a role in teaching people how to use FOI legislation. They organize conferences and seminars, and publish and sell books, journals and study guides. Many also develop online databases with a wide variety of content such as jurisprudence, articles, position papers, FOI “alerts’’ and bibliographies.

2.3       United Kingdom     

The Campaign for Freedom of Information, a British coalition, has actively lobbied for introduction of a Freedom of Information law. Similarly, the National Union of Journalists initiated the Let in the Light Campaign in the mid-1990s to encourage legislation.    

2.4       Projects

In Canada, British Columbia organizations have undertaken notable FOI projects. The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has launched the Campaign for Open Government, which includes numerous advocacy groups. It is also seeking better protection for whistleblowers, government officials who bring details of irresponsible or illegal activities to public attention, often at great risk to their careers. The B.C. Journalists Committee for Freedom of Information compiled the report, For The Record, a compilation of stories published using access legislation.

On a national level, the Canadian Library Association sponsors an annual Information Rights Week, which focuses on issues including access to government information and affordable telecommunications rates. The Canadian Association of Journalists has begun work on an access letter generator, and has served as a springboard for the fledgling Open Government Canada.

Numerous U.S. organizations have developed imaginative projects that put FOI issues in the public eye, including publication of declassified documents on popular subjects such as the JFK assassination and Marilyn Monroe. Another initiative, drawing on public input, is the Ten Most Wanted Government Documents project. A common service is the provision of legal advice through a telephone hotline staffed by lawyers with expertise in FOI and related matters.

2.5       Recommendations

The committee recommends Open Government Canada:

(*) Adopt the following mission statement —

Open Government Canada is a coalition of organizations and individuals interested in maintaining and strengthening access to information rights in Canada. The coalition supports a common voice for those whose interest in access stems from their public interest role in society. The group seeks to bring about legislative and policy changes that reduce undue government secrecy and foster the public’s right to know about the institutions, agencies and services it funds and relies upon. OGC helps organize and co-operates with regional and local access to information groups on projects, information sharing and fundraising. It also seeks to increase use of Canada’s access procedures by providing resources, education and assistance.

(*) Strike a committee to assess and report on MP John Bryden’s private bill to amend the federal Access to Information Act.

(*) Explore potential educational initiatives and public projects, including completion of the CAJ letter generator, a regular newsletter and Web-based archives.

3.0 Membership

Successful advocacy efforts in the area of freedom of information have generally flowed from a coalition model that includes the participation of parties with public-interest objectives.

3.1 Common goals

Many Canadian organizations and individuals use federal and provincial freedom of information laws for research in the public interest. They include lobby groups, news media, historians, other academics, librarians, archivists and lawyers.

As FOI users, these groups and individuals share certain needs, namely ready access to government-held records, timely service and affordable fees, as well as legislation and administrative measures that respond to these requirements.

3.2 Coalition model

In the United States, coalitions at the state and national levels are considered effective FOI advocates because they articulate opinions and concerns of information-seekers with a unified voice.

In general, a coalition has committed members, makes decisions and routinely undertakes joint strategies and tactics, whereas a network has members in name only, does not make collective decisions and only periodically acts in a concerted fashion.

Coalitions usually have more complex membership and board structures than networks due to the rather focused nature of their activities.

3.3       Criteria

In Canada, businesses account for a large percentage of freedom of information requests. In some instances, FOI requesters such as pharmaceutical firms use the laws solely as a vehicle to enhance their competitive position. Other businesses, including the media and consulting firms, use FOI in pursuit of both profits and the public interest. Non-profit organizations, meanwhile, see the laws as means of obtaining information that can further their cause.

U.S. FOI coalitions generally draw members and organizers from the ranks of media organizations, law firms, universities and public-interest organizations, and welcome the participation of individual citizens. However, there are notable exceptions. For instance, the California First Amendment Coalition allows members from all types of businesses, while Freedom of Information Oklahoma’s board of directors includes state and elected officials.

3.4       Tiers/Benefits

Many FOI organizations have different levels of membership that entail sliding fee scales and commensurate benefits and privileges.

Typical fee structures are: students, individuals $10 - $50; libraries, colleges, universities, state chapters $250; national journalism organizations, law firms, non-profit groups, labour unions $750; sustaining members (a handful of major news organizations, foundations interested in supporting FOI) $2,500 to $5,000.

Member fees for media organizations vary significantly depending on the size of the outlet, from $35 for a university radio station to $1,000 for a large newspaper.

Some U.S. coalitions, which benefit from charitable status, solicit individual member donations ranging from $25 to $1,000, or Friend to Benefactor. Members receive benefits that correspond to their level of financial commitment — newsletter and access to all Web site pages for minimum donations, and special gifts and waiver of conference fees for maximum contributions.

Voting privileges are also sometimes tied to membership status.

3.5       Recommendations

The committee recommends Open Government Canada:

(*) Develop membership criteria that suit the coalition model, including rules concerning eligibility, fees and benefits.

4.0 Structure/Board of Directors

Effective FOI organizations benefit from the strength of existing local, regional and national groups as well as a governing structure that includes a board of directors.

4.1      Status

U.S. FOI organizations generally enjoy charitable status, which allows donors to deduct contributions from their income taxes. Given the different rules in Canada, which more severely restrict the advocacy activities of charities, it is unlikely that Open Government Canada would qualify for charitable status. In Canada, charities are permitted to spend 10 per cent of their annual funding on political advocacy. Only charities can receive donations from foundations, with one major exception: non-profit organizations may accept money from the Trillium Foundation.

One common approach is to form a non-profit organization for advocacy purposes and a partner charitable organization that can do research and issue educational reports. Setting up a non-profit group is relatively straightforward and inexpensive. The first step in establishing a charity is creating a non-profit organization, then applying to the federal government for charitable status.

4.2      NFOIC

The U.S. National Freedom of Information Coalition, a non-profit alliance of state-level FOI organizations and other members, has charitable status. It is governed by a five-member board of directors, elected by coalition members. Board members also serve as officers (president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, any other relevant position), roles that are decided among themselves.

The coalition consists of active and associate members. Active members are entitled to elect board members and may be permitted to vote on other coalition business, as the board sees fit. Associate members have no voting privileges except the right to choose one ex-officio, or non-voting, member to the five-member board of directors.

4.3      Board of Directors

An FOI organization’s board of directors should represent the key constituencies of the coalition (media, interest groups, academics, librarians, individuals) as well as the regional makeup of the country.

Coalition members usually elect board members for set terms. The U.S. NFOIC staggers the terms of initial board members to ensure sufficient continuity despite turnover in board makeup. (Two serve three-year terms, two serve two-year terms, while one serves for one year).

A board’s powers and responsibilities are set out in a formal constitution and/or bylaws. These rules also govern the operations of the coalition, financial procedures and voting privileges.

The NFOIC operated during its first year with an interim board selected by an appointed chair.

4.4      Staff/Office

An annual budget of $150,000 is sufficient to hire two staff members and one part-time worker. However, most U.S. FOI organizations have few staff and rely heavily on volunteers or interns. Lack of reliable funding can be a major impediment to hiring staff.

Staff may, but not necessarily, require dedicated office space. OGC has a tentative offer of access to a small Toronto office through an agreement with a prospective member. However, OGC’s organizational phase is marked by a high degree of “virtual” co-operation through Internet e-mail, a Web site and FOI listserv. Meetings have taken place via telephone conference call. These practices will undoubtedly continue, regardless of whether OGC establishes an office.

4.5      Meetings

Directors of Canadian organizations often have difficulty meeting regularly due to the time and expense involved in travelling great distances. However, conducting meetings by telephone conference call, at minimum four times annually, can be a workable alternative.

The U.S. NFOIC’s board meets at least twice annually, once in conjunction with the coalition’s annual meeting.

Many U.S. FOI organizations sponsor workshops and conferences, in keeping with their educational role, that regularly bring members together.

4.6      Proposal

Early in the planning stages, a fledgling coalition should develop a formal proposal setting out: the group’s name, office location, means of becoming a member or supporter, decision-making structure, spokespeople, goals and strategies. The proposal serves as an invitation to be circulated to prospective members.

4.7      Recommendations

The committee recommends Open Government Canada:

(*) Examine the viability of incorporating as a non-profit organization and establishing a partner charitable entity.

(*) Appoint a steering committee to fulfil the responsibilities of the board of directors until a permanent board can be elected.

(*) Ensure the elected board of directors represents the diversity of Canada as well as the key constituencies of OGC’s membership.

(*) Develop a formal proposal, under the direction of the steering committee, setting out the planned structure, goals and strategies of Open Government Canada for the purposes of inviting members to join.

5.0       Funding

A non-profit organization such as Open Government Canada generally requires an annual budget of $75,000 to $150,000, depending on resource and staffing levels.

5.1       Membership Fees

Annual fees from members are a major source of financial support for FOI organizations.

Many U.S. groups have complex membership structures that take into account a member’s resources. For instance, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government has 25 membership categories with various annual dues. Student fees are $10 while trade association dues are $5,000. The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas essentially combines the two approaches, inviting members to sign up at the Samuel Adams level ($25) or in one of several other categories, the highest being the Freedom level ($1,000). Each level confers progressively more enticing benefits upon members. Whether this approach would work in the Canadian context (the Ged Baldwin level, $500?) is open to debate.

U.S. organizations also encourage members to offer annual contributions in addition to dues, though the charitable status of these organizations might make this approach more feasible in the American context than it would be in Canada.

5.2       Fund-raising

The primary means of raising money for FOI organizations are building and sustaining a membership base, soliciting donations from various parties and selling educational products.

The Canadian definition of charities, the widely acknowledged difficulty of raising money in Canada and the rather low profile of freedom of information issues in this country pose formidable obstacles. It appears any staff or volunteers that OGC recruits would devote considerable time and effort to building the membership and securing other sources of funding. In the early stages, OGC might require the services of a professional fund-raiser.

Prospective members of the coalition have proposed a number of worthy fund-raising ideas, from producing and selling an FOI how-to guide to enlisting Canadian newspapers to provide advertising space for the recruitment of new members.

FOI organizations often raise money by offering products and services to members and the general public. These include FOI conferences, workshops and publications.

An annual budget and marketing strategy are essential components of any funding plan.

5.3       Recommendations

The committee recommends Open Government Canada:

(*) Strike a committee to report on potential funding sources and projects that would contribute to OGC’s long-term sustainability.

6.0       Constitution/Bylaws

The constitution or bylaws of an FOI coalition govern the organization’s procedures concerning virtually all key issues, including mission, membership, structure and funding.

6.1       Non-profit Organizations

The federal Industry Department has prepared a kit for establishing non-profit organizations that contains a model constitution/bylaws.

These rules could be adapted to reflect the particulars of OGC as spelled out in the formal proposal to be distributed to prospective members.

6.2       Recommendations

The committee recommends Open Government Canada:

(*) Determine the requirements for a constitution and/or bylaws, and ensure the constitution/bylaws govern the participation of OGC’s provincial and territorial chapters.

7.0 Appendix

Mission and Role of Key Groups Involved in Freedom of Information

Name of group: Canadian Access and Privacy Association

Location: Ottawa

Mission: Promote access/privacy legislation and be a centre of expertise throughout Canada.

Membership or affiliations: National organization, majority of members drawn from community of federal officials involved in administering the Access to Information and Privacy legislation (ATIP), but also includes some individual requesters.

Activities: Provides information and organizes conferences to promote knowledge and understanding of federal Access and Privacy legislation and the FOI and privacy laws in other jurisdictions. 

Name of group: B.C. Journalists Committee for Freedom of Information

Location: Vancouver

Mission: Act as advocacy group to help strengthen B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Membership or affiliations: Print, radio and television journalists, freelance researchers and media lawyers.

Activities:

Counter the perceived attacks by B.C. government against provincial FOI Act through cuts to ministry FOI budgets and fee increases.

Resource group formed to encourage submissions to the special legislative committee that began mandatory legislative review of the FOI Act in 1997 Information centre for media organizations part of broader FOI coalition in 1998, in cooperation with the B.C. Press Council, released report, “For The Record”, containing newspaper stories published in B.C. as a direct result of the FOI legislation.

Name of group: BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Location: Vancouver

Mission: « to advance and support the principle that access to public information held by governments is vital to the public interest in a free and democratic society »

« to defend personal privacy… »

« to encourage that the (above) principles be entrenched in British Columbia provincial and municipal law and in corporate policy, in order to foster citizen awareness of and participation in public decision-making, and secure an optimum state of public accountability…  »

Membership or affiliations: Individuals; created 1991 by people associated with BC Civil Liberties Association, West Coast Environmental Law Society, Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

Activities: Provides information and non-legal advice to the general public regarding access to information and privacy protection.

Acts as a legal research and policy resource centre on freedom of information, privacy and other information issues.

Describes itself as BC’s « major public watchdog for FOI and privacy issues, and the only advocacy group in Canada devoted solely to these issues »

Advocacy: intervenes in key cases that come before B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Name of group: Canada’s Coalition for Public Information

Location: Toronto

Mission: Foster access to affordable useable information and communications services and technology.

Provide an effective grassroots voice for promoting and facilitating access to the benefits of telecomputing technology to maximize participation in a knowledge society and economy.

Membership or affiliations: Individuals, groups, institutions. Includes interest groups, libraries, publishers, archivists, provincial ministries and services, information system vendors, labour groups.

Activities: Holds thematic conferences (eg. Impact of the Internet on information), operates Internet listserv, releases publications.

Serves as an “Open Think-Tank” and a conduit for the public to participate in the debates and discussions around the issues.

Creates links with and among other organizations who share common views and positions.

 

Name of group: Canadian Association of Journalists

Location: Ottawa

Mission: Promote excellence in journalism, serve as national voice of Canadian journalists, uphold the public’s right to know, encourage and promote investigative journalism.

Membership or affiliations: Reporters, editors, photojournalists.

Activities: Organizes annual conference and regional writing workshops.

Advocacy on issues of concern to journalists, including freedom of expression, access to government information, government legislation and policies.

Has laid groundwork for a federal-provincial-territorial FOI letter generator.

Web site features FOI resources.

Caucuses focus on computer-assisted reporting and other special-interest issues.

Publishes Media magazine.

Comments: A key founding supporter of Open Government Canada.

 

Name of group: Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec

Location: Montreal

Mission: Professional development, defence of freedom of the press, media ethics.

Membership or affiliations: Quebec’s major professional organization of working journalists, editors, researchers and photographers (print and electronic media).

Activities (FOI-related):

Intervention in National Assembly when amendments are proposed to legislation such as Loi sur l’accès aux documents des organismes publics et sur la protection des renseignements personnels (Quebec freedom of information and privacy law) or when mandate of the Commission d’accès à l’information is being reviewed.

Intervention through press conferences when access to court proceedings, to municipal records or council meetings, to election polls, to government documents denied.

Comments:  There is no permanent subcommittee on FOI, and no budget for legal assistance or for intervening in court cases or access commission hearings.

Claude Robillard, general manager, explains that it is difficult to interest people in access to government information issues because the Quebec legislation deals with access and protection of privacy: the public confuses the clamour for access with the idea the media want to get their hands on private medical or tax information about the average citizen. Also, he feels the Quebec media lack a tradition of aggressive investigative journalism as can be found in some Canadian and U.S. newsrooms.

 

Name of group: Canadian Library Association

Location: Ottawa

Mission: Promote, develop and support library and information services in Canada.

Excerpts from 1994 Information and Telecommunication Access Principles Position Statement: « Government information is fundamental to participation in the democratic process and should therefore be accessible in a current, timely, accurate, and comprehensive manner... Government policy should encourage and support archiving of information in support of the collective human memory... »

Membership or affiliations: Public, government, special, academic, school librarians as individuals, some library organizations; affiliated with IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations).

Activities (FOI-related): 

Lobbying around « digital divide » to ensure universal access to Internet and other new technologies, archiving of electronic government information.

Sponsors Information Rights Week every year (issues of universal access, telecommunications rates in remote regions, access to government service information).

Fairly active on FOI issues.

Comments: Leacy O’Callaghan-O’Brien, one of the executive directors, explains big issue is the lack of archiving and preservation rules for many kinds of electronic information produced by government. Governments have eliminated many paper publications but will not always guarantee that electronic equivalents will stay posted for long or archived in easily retrievable formats. Also, the electronic versions of some previously free paper products are now sold at commercial rates (eg. some geographic information CD-ROMs now cost thousands of dollars).

 

Name of group: The Campaign for Freedom of Information (UK)

Location: London

Mission: Campaign against unnecessary secrecy and for a Freedom of Information Act.

Membership or affiliations: Supported by some 90 national organizations. Receives funding from a major consumers’ association and several charitable foundations.

Activities:Has promoted a series of private members’ bills in Parliament, several of which have become law, providing new rights of access to personal files and other information.

Monitor existing access rights and provide practical guides to help people use them.

Name of group: National Union of Journalists (UK)

Location: London and various local offices in Ireland, the UK and continental Europe.

Mission: To be the voice of media workers and provide members with union representation, legal advice, training, insurance assistance.

Membership or affiliations: World’s largest journalists’ union, with over 25,000 members in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.     Includes book editors, book authors, broadcasters, cartoonists, desktop publishers, photographers, picture researchers, reporters, researchers, editors, script writers, illustrators, HTML designers, translators.

Activities (FOI-related): Lobbying in favour of introduction of a Freedom of Information Act.

Current campaign efforts to fight government attempts to water down draft FOI bill.

 

Name of group: National Freedom of Information Coalition

Location: Dallas, Texas

Mission: Protect the public’s right to know through the education of media professionals, attorneys, academics, students and the general public.

Membership or affiliations: Loose affiliation of autonomous state FOI organizations, first amendment coalitions, media outlets and other groups.

Activities: Helps start-up FOI organizations initiate joint fundraising efforts with state organizations. Develops FOI programs, projects and publications that can be utilized by the member FOI organizations. Prepares educational reports or other publications.

 

Name of group: New Mexico Foundation for Open Government

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mission: Help the public exercise its rights under: the First Amendment; the New Mexico Open Meetings, Inspection of Public Records and Arrest Record Information acts; the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

Membership or affiliations: Media outlets, lawyers, public officials, teachers, students, individuals.

Activities: Presents seminars, provides legal advice through a hotline, undertakes legal action in FOI cases, makes complaints about FOI violations, monitors application of laws.


Name of group: Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

Location: Dallas, Texas

Mission: Provide leadership to ensure the public’s business is conducted in public and to protect individual liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Membership or affiliations: Media outlets, lawyers, teachers, students, public and business officials, individuals.

Activities:  Helps citizens access open meetings and documents that should be a matter of public record.

Provides a statewide clearinghouse and assistance through a network of attorneys for FOI-related issues.

Name of group: Reporters Committee for Freedom of  the Press

Location: Arlington, Virginia

Mission: Provide help to journalists seeking to obtain information from government agencies, both federal and state.

Membership or affiliations: none per se, sponsoring committee of prominent media personalities (eg. Peter Jennings) who fund activities out of their own pocket through donations.

Activities: Created in 1970 at a time when the nation’s news media faced a wave of government subpoenas asking reporters to name confidential sources, so started mostly out of concern for First Amendment issues. Fighting censorship still a priority.

Disseminating information in a variety of forms, including a quarterly legal review, a bi-weekly newsletter, a 24-hour legal defense hotline available to any journalist in the United States (or internationally), various handbooks on media law issues and state and federal FOI laws, automated FOI request letter generator.

Comments: Rebecca Dougherty, director of service centre, is particularly proud of the automatic letter generator for FOI requests. She says it is used hundreds of times per month.

 

Name of group: Freedom of Information Center

Location: University of Missouri School of Journalism, city of Columbia

Mission: Act as reference and research library to serve the general public and the media on questions about access to government documents and information.

Membership or affiliations: Academic institution

Activities: Active watchdog role. Maintains and develops collection of more than one million articles and documents about access to information, at the state, US federal and local levels, in addition to a wide collection of online document accessible through its web page, e.g. FOIA (state and federal) guides and resources.

Comments: Massive historical dates to the 1950s.

Name of group: OMB Watch

Location: Washington

Mission:

Non-profit research, educational, and advocacy organization that focuses on budget and government performance issues, regulatory policy, advocacy, access to government information, and activities at the White House Office of Management and Budget which oversees regulation, the federal budget, information collection and dissemination, proposed legislation, testimony by agencies (US equivalent of Treasury Board Secretariat)

Promote government accountability through disclosure and transparency.

Membership or affiliations: Project works in partnership with groups such as National Newspaper Association, Freedom Forum, Brookings Institute, various graduate faculties of library studies, Public Citizen (the Naderites), unions, foundations (eg. Rockefeller).

Activities: Co-sponsor of 10 Most Wanted Government Documents Project.

Operates RTK NET (Right To Know Net), online service providing environmental, census, housing, and bank loan data retrieved from public databases; works with many local community groups to teach them how to use online and Internet technologies, and put RTK NET data to use in their communities.

Agenda for Access project to develop a policy blueprint to promote greater public access to government information.

In 2000, will finish two-year data-gathering project to develop a series of case studies outlining obstacles users face in accessing and using government information.

Comments: Something like the RTK NET or the data- gathering project could be very interesting to the general public or organizations in Canada.

Name of group: National Security Archive

Location: Washington, D.C.

Membership or affiliations: Affiliated with the Gelman Library, George ashington University.

Funded through combo of publication revenues and foundation grants (Carnegie, McArthur, Ford).

Mission: Enrich research and public debate on the often hidden process of national security/defence/intelligence/counterespionage decision making by developing a systematic approach to the organization of declassified information. « to apply the latest in computerized indexing technology to the massive amount of material already released by the U.S. government on international affairs, make them accessible to researchers and the public, and go beyond that base to build comprehensive collections of documents on specific topics of greatest interest to scholars and the public »

Activities: Collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Produces indices, catalogues, chronologies, glossaries, bibliographies and introductory essays, massive microfiche collection, and electronic briefing books on the Web.

Acts as a public interest law firm defending public access to government information through the FOIA (eg. was involved in case to release Oliver North’s private notebooks from his White House years).

Comments: An archivist’s dream, among the world’s largest non-governmental collection of documents released through the freedom of information legislation.

 

Name of group: Public Citizen Litigation Group

Location: Washington, D.C.

Mission: Be the « consumer’s eyes and ears in Washington, use public law to fight for safer drugs and medical devices, cleaner and safer energy sources, a cleaner environment, fair trade, and a more open and democratic government »

Membership or affiliations: Part of public interest law firm founded in 1972 by Ralph Nader; works closely with Nader’s Center for Study of Responsive Law.

Activities: Firm has 6 working groups: Congress Watch, Health Research Group (for Canadian-style medicare and for occupational health and safety reform for workers), Critical Mass Energy Project (against fossil fuels and other polluting energy technologies), Global Trade Watch (critical of free trade and WTO-led liberalization), Buyers Up (home heating-oil consumer co-op).

Litigation Group: one of the Litigation Group’s priorities is « open government »: undertakes litigation against US government and its agencies to secure compliance with access laws and challenge court secrecy (priority is secrecy of grant jury records).

Group also runs Freedom of Information Clearinghouse that provides technical and legal assistance to individuals, public interest groups, and the media who seek access to information held by government agencies.

Comments: They don’t lobby or educate, they sue because it is more effective. 

Name of group: Freedom Forum

Location: Arlington, Virginia

Mission: Be an advocate for freedom of the press to provide analysis of issues such as censorship, flag-burning, Internet regulation, journalism ethics and press freedom, press fairness and representation/diversity issues, court secrecy, government secrecy and ways of expanding FOIA.

Provide education and assistance on free press and access to information issues to interested media, individuals and organizations in emerging democratic countries such as former Soviet Bloc countries.

Membership or affiliations: Established in 1991 as successor to the Gannett Foundation; neither solicits nor accepts financial contributions; totally self-sufficient foundation whose work is supported by income from an endowment worth more than $1 billion US.

Activities: Mostly devoted to “First Amendment” issues but also FOI interest.

Operates programs such as the Newseum at The Freedom Forum World Center headquarters in Arlington, Va., the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., the Media Studies Center in New York City and the Pacific Coast Center in San Francisco.

Comments: USA’s largest foundation dedicated exclusively to media and First Amendment issues.

 
Name of group:
Society of Professional Journalists

Location: Greencastle, Indiana

Mission: « To ensure that the concept of self-government outlined by the U.S. Constitution remains a reality into future centuries, the American people must be well informed in order to make decisions regarding their lives, and their local and national communities. It is the role of journalists to provide this information in an accurate, comprehensive, timely and understandable manner. It is the mission of the Society of Professional Journalists: To promote this flow of information; to maintain constant vigilance in protection of the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press etc. »

Dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behaviour.

Membership or affiliations: Largest and most broad-based journalism organization in the U.S.

Activities: Lobbied throughout the 50s and early 60s for passage of original FOIA (1966).

Lobbies legislatures, writes amicus briefs in court cases involving FOI issues, launches litigation on FOI issues.

Maintains web indexes on FOI-related issues, legal briefs index, FOI alert index, list of federal FOI and state FOI contacts, annual state-by-state report on FOI progress (or ground lost).

Comments: FOI alert index is an interesting idea (brief blurbs about obstacles to information access thrown up by government agencies).

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