Freedom of the Press

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens Discussing First Amendment Issues
Photo by: Spark St. Jude/MagicOnFilm

The mission of the Freedom of the Press committee is to safeguard press freedoms and to educate the community about them.

To carry out that mission, the committee monitors proposed legislation and any other government actions that might affect press freedoms or the public’s access to information.
The committee also educates Atlanta Press Club members and the general public about press freedoms and open records and why they matter.
The committee works with the APC leadership, government officials, reporters and others with expertise about timely and relevant freedom-of-the-press issues.
In matters where the committee determines that public action is needed, the committee works with the club leaders to determine what that should be.

News and Updates on Freedom of the Press Issues:

Atlanta College Journalist Arrests 
On October 1, 2012 The Atlanta Press Club along with The American Society of News Editors, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Cable News Network, Inc., The American Society of Media Photographers, The Student Press Law Center and the National Press Photographers Association Inc. sent the following letter to Kasim Reed, Mayor of the City of Atlanta: Atlanta College Journalist Arrests Letter.

The letter requested that Reed have charges against Judy Kim of Georgia State University’s Signal newspaper and Alisen Redmon of Kennesaw State University’s Sentinel Newspaper be dropped. The three journalists were charged with obstruction of traffic on November 5, 2011 after police said they refused to move from a protest area at Woodruff Park.

According to Mayor Reed on October 15, the charges will be dropped.

Report on House Bill 1176

By: Georgia First Amendment Foundation

       We wanted to update you about House Bill 1176, and some of its provisions that may undermine open government and transparency in Georgia.  We hope that the Georgia Senate will remove the anti-access provisions.  The language in the bill goes way beyond allowing a judge to carefully expunge somebody’s criminal record where they have demonstrated it is appropriate.

      In many circumstances, it calls for automatically sealing all criminal records, including routine police records, when charges are dismissed or when someone is found not guilty.  There would be no way to evaluate whether that result was fair to the victims of the crime or to determine if the police acted improperly in the first place.

      It creates a real risk that a lot of decisions made by police and prosecutors will be secret forever.  That’s a very bad idea.

     It also will lead to a system where the public is wondering if the information given to them about someone’s criminal history is filled with holes.  Our government should not be picking and choosing what parts of the truth about the criminal justice system that it wants to share with its citizens.

Please call your legislators about these concerns, and feel free to contact us with questions.  Thank you for your help in this effort.


The Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Update on the Open Records Bill

By Hollie Manheimer, Executive Director of Georgia First Amendment Foundation

March 20, 2012

Click here: HB 397 Open Gov Bill


Senate Panel OKs Proposed Public Records Changes

By Errin Haines, Associated Press Reporter and Atlanta Press Club Board of Directors

March 19, 2012

ATLANTA (AP) – Legislation to change Georgia’s open government laws could soon come up for a vote in the state Senate now that a committee has approved a bill that would make obtaining public documents cheaper while stiffening penalties for illegally withholding public information and shortening the window of public scrutiny for candidates for university president.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday recommended sending the bill to the full Senate for a vote. The House overwhelmingly passed the proposal earlier this month.

“A lot of the inconsistencies that stop us from appropriate enforcement will no longer be the case,” said Attorney General Sam Olens, who spoke in favor of the bill during the hearing. “This should be it. There should be no more amendments.”

During Monday’s hearing, concerns were raised about a pair of amendments. One would allow an exemption for the state’s economic development department, which argued that sensitive deals could be otherwise jeopardized. Another would shorten the window of public scrutiny for people being considered to run the state’s colleges or its university system – the Board of Regents requested the change because it says the current 14-day requirement poses a risk of losing talented applicants. Both were adopted.

Tom Clyde, a private attorney who represents the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, objected to the amendment regarding university presidents, saying that five days is not long enough to scrutinize candidates for such an important role.

“There is really no more newsworthy event in the state than the attempt to identify and select the president of one of our major university units,” Clyde said. “Reducing that amount of time simply puts the system in a position where it cannot work.”

Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said that although the economic development exemption does not apply to municipal governments, the law could have an unintended trickle-down effect if it passes.

“We don’t need another exception in Georgia,” she told the panel.

The Associated Press is part of the foundation.

The cost of getting government documents would drop to 10 cents from 25 cents per page. Government officials who unlawfully withhold public records could face a fine of up to $1,000 for a first offense, an increase over the current maximum fine of $500. Additional violations within a one-year period would carry a maximum $2,500 penalty.

The bill now heads to the Senate Rules committee.

Click here to follow Errin Haines on Twitter