Michigan broadcasters shared the importance of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and access to public records with the Michigan House Oversight Committee on Thursday (10/14).
“Local journalists are a conduit between government and the public and it’s essential that they have access to public records to protect the promise of transparency and accountability by those making decisions,” said incoming MAB President Sam Klemet during the testimony.
“Public oversight is the definitive safeguard of democracy and preserving the Freedom of Information Act defends this safeguard.”
Kim Voet of WDIV-TV in Detroit and Vincent Duffy of Michigan Radio joined Klemet in outlining some of the challenges newsrooms in the state face when submitting FOIA requests and asked the committee to examine the current policies to ensure that journalists have better access.
“While the information we request technically already belongs to the public, we often get bills in the thousands of dollars, even tens of thousands of dollars to get the information,” said Duffy during his testimony. “Sometimes we can work with FOIA officers to narrow our request and reduce the costs, sometimes we can’t. It creates a chilling effect where we have to selectively decide which information is worth paying for.“
Duffy recommended the creation of a state FOIA mediation office or ombudsman.
Voet referenced WDIV’s use of FOIA to uncover general Information, misconduct and waste, along with threats to the public’s health and safety. She and Duffy both highlighted the expense and time it often takes to get a response to a FOIA request and the need for a more efficient system for both timelines and cost.
“A free press means our government answers to the people. This is critical to our democracy, our state and our country’s future,” Voet told the committee.
Watch the testimony of MAB President-Elect Sam Klemet, Michigan Radio News Director Vincent Duffy and WDIV-TV News Director Kim Voet below: