Freedom of Information Act Comes with a Price Tag for the Media
Updated: Friday, August 2 2013, 10:12 PM EDT
Holding the government accountable is one of our most important missions at FOX45.
This mission has raised the question: how can journalist and citizens keep tabs on politicians if they don't have access to public information, or they are being charged huge fees to get it?
It was the death of a child that raised questions about the right for everyone to know how the government works. One month old Kierra Ware was found bruised and unresponsive, while in the care of his father Dion. These signs of child abuse lead to murder charges and a disturbing revelation: Dion could have been in jail when the crime occurred. A probation officer had asked a judge to issue a warrant for Dion's arrest after he violated his probation last year, but a warrant never materialized.
Upon learning this, FOX45 filed a Public Information Act Request to find similar cases where criminals had fallen through the cracks. The request was formally filed in the hopes the state would release information deemed public. But FOX45's request turned out to have a hefty price tag.
The State Division of Corrections told FOX45 it would cost the company $32,000 to learn how many parolees should be behind bars. In the letter, the state justified the cost saying the data would have to be assembled by hand, but that's not the only case of a steep price placed on "the right to know."
FOX45 requested expense reports from the State Department of Transportation, and sent FOX45 a $7,000 bill.
Freedom of Information Requests are crucial to investigative journalism. Maryland law says public agencies can charge a "reasonable" fee for turning over requested information, but there is no definition of what qualifies as "reasonable." It could be $50.00 or $32,000.00, depending on who is responding to a request.