Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Advice for the President

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Advice for the President

Article excerpt

CALLING ON PRESIDENT Clinton to "reverse the information policies and practices of previous administrations," six media organizations have sent an information policy paper to the president and Vice President Gore.

"President Clinton will have an extraordinary opportunity to fulfill the ideal of participatory democracy in America through his presidential authority over and dissemination of information to the public and the press," the paper, "Maintaining an Informed Democracy," stated.

Sent by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Newsletter Publishers Association, the National Newspaper Association, the Radio-Television News Directors Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists, the six-page report outlines suggested policy in areas such as access, the military, subpoenas, the National Archives and impersonation of journalists.

ASNE counsel, Richard M. Schmidt Jr. of the Washington, D.C., law firm Cohn & Marks, said such a paper has not been sent to a new president by these groups before, but in light of Clinton's statements and the abuses of the past 12 years, this ad hoc group of media organizations thought the time was right.

The paper and cover letter were sent to the president and vice president Jan. 22.

Issues to be included in the policy paper were determined by an informal coalition of media groups in the Washington area, and those six groups listed chose to sign the paper, Schmidt said.

The Newspaper Association of America was sent a draft copy of the paper but did not sign it.

Newspaper Association of America senior vice president/government, legal and public affairs John Sturm recommended that the NAA executive committee not sign the draft version because of language that was unnecessarily harsh, particularly that dealing with the appointment of a new archivist.

The NAA executive committee chose not to comment on or suggest changes to the paper. It believed it did not have time, because it thought the paper was to be sent prior to the Jan. 20 inauguration.

The "meaningful exercise" of First Amendment rights, the paper stated, "requires the political will of the president, and his continued personal commitment to open government, an informed electorate and a free press."

The journalism groups charged that "through a series of stringent controls and practices" the Reagan and Bush administrations "systematically reduced public access to information about their government."

Personnel appointments should be made aware of the president's stand on open government, and the "commitment to these beliefs should be assessed in the records of presidential appointees and future judges."

New directors, the paper suggested, should be named for the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and the Office of Information and Security Oversight.

Other appointments should include new Justice Department officials with authority over the Office of Information and Privacy, and a new Archivist of the United States.

The groups believe that President Clinton should issue a new executive order for defining and protecting national security information, a practice "of almost every new president"

The president should be sure the order regarding classified information does the following, according to the groups' paper:

* "Balances the public's interest in access against the need for classifying for national security reasons;

* "Places equal emphasis upon classification and declassification;

* "Narrows the criteria for classification;

* "Reduces the volume of classified information;

* "Creates schedules for systematic declassfication;

* "Eliminates the authority to reclassify information in the public domain;

* "Creates greater accountability and information security standards for all classified information, including compartmentalized and special access information. …

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