RTDNA urges Missouri AG to enforce open records laws

September 29, 2014 02:15

RTDNA is calling on Missouri's Attorney General to enforce the state's freedom of information laws in Ferguson, Missouri, after officials there began charging journalists high fees for copies of public records relating to the shooting death of Michael Brown.

As reported by the Associated Press, the city has demanded charges nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees' salaries before they will agree to turn over files. Some of the only records that have been released so far, in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, have been censored, omitting the names of officers and other details.

"The law is clear," said Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director. "These exorbitant fees are merely a tactic of delay and intimidation. The public has a right to these records without interference."

In a letter to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, RTDNA says the release of the records ensures transparency in government. The full letter follows:
Mr. Chris Koster
Attorney General
State of Missouri
Jefferson City, MO
Dear Attorney General Koster:
The demands by the city of Ferguson, MO for exorbitant fees in response to news media requests for copies of records relating to the August 9th police shooting of Michael Brown clearly appear to be an effort by city officials to discourage or even eliminate efforts by the media to continue its investigation into this incident. 
Reports of the city billing news organizations $135 per hour to retrieve emails since the shooting and further indications from the city to other news media that their requests would cost unspecified “thousands of dollars” for copies of such documents further demonstrates the city’s apparent contempt for the media—something so graphically demonstrated on the streets of Ferguson during the nights following the shooting. 
Missouri law permits such records to be provided free of charge if the material is deemed to be in the public interest.  Certainly, the Brown case fits that description.  As you know, public agencies may charge legally responsible fees to cover the costs involved and news organizations are willing to pay such reasonable fees.   However, the current demands being made drastically exceed such parameters.
As the largest professional association in the United States for electronic journalists, RTDNA asks you to investigate this matter and enforce Missouri’s freedom of information laws.   This is the best and most appropriate way to ensure transparency in government and a full and fair investigation of all the facts relating to this event.
We thank you for your immediate attention to this important matter.
Mike Cavender
Executive Director
Radio Television Digital News Association
Washington, DC


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