SPJ backs open-records laws

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Frustrated by TV news stories highlighting dangers posed by public access to
personal data, the Society of Professional Journalists is gearing up to educate
media executives about the benefits of open-records laws.

'Our goal is to increase the visibility of the right of access,' said Robert
Becker, chairman of the SPJ's FOIA Committee.

Too often, he complained, television stations run 'scare' stories warning
that driver's license records and other personal data are easily obtained by
identity thieves and other nefarious characters.

What the stories often fail to convey is that these types of records can also
be useful by letting the public learn whether a school-bus driver has been
convicted of driving under the influence, or if a politician has been convicted
of a crime.

'We want people to understand that this information is public for a reason,'
Becker said.

During a campaign that kicks off March 16, SPJ officials will ask the
Radio-Television News Directors Association and the National Association of
Broadcasters to help promote records access.

The SPJ will also establish a Web site promoting open-records laws and
provide journalists with sample stories based on the
information.

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