Invoking the image of an armed and dangerous government, AP president Tom Curley is proposing the creation of a potentially controversial new lobbying organization to champion open government to Washington.
His proposed media advocacy center would push back against the government's tightening control over records and FOIA requests by broadcast and print journalists. Invoking an Orwellian image, Curley said: "The government's power is overwhelming. It's agents are armed and authorized to use force if they have to."
He cited as examples the forced erasure of an AP reporter's tape (of an Antonin Scalia speech) by federal marshals and the forced deletion of digital images from the camera of an AP freelancer outside a Michael Jackson hearing.
Curley argues that after Sept. 11, news organizations gave the government a lot of slack. He says that a "continued relaxation of vigilance" would be "dangerous for us and the society in which we play such a critical role."
With the government pushing hard in Washington, Curley says, "we must push back equally hard for openness. I think it's time to consider establishment of a focused lobbying effort in Washington."
He conceded that some journalists would balk. "They believe the role of journalists is to remain strictly impartial, and that express backing for even the best-intended legislation would compromise that role."
Curley disagrees. "A fight is what this is. A fight is what our system of government expects it to be."
In a speech (the Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture series) in Riverside California Friday, Curley said he wants the Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press, the Society of Professional Journalists and others to get together to develop a plan for a Washington lobbying office and a battle plan for gaining "statutory guarantees" of access to government records.
It is terrific to have the CEO of such an important news organization call attention to trends in government secrecy," said RTNDA President Barbara Cochran.
When asked whether her group, which represents electronic journalists, would join such an effort, she pointed out that RTNDA "has been fighting for a long time on the issues he outlined. We already have the Coalition of National Journalism Organizations, housed at the Reporters Committee, coordinating efforts of the various organizations he mentioned. It's great to have the Associated Press in this fight."