The Right to Know
Updated: Friday, August 2 2013, 10:11 PM EDT
In Baltimore City, attending public meetings is not always easy – and it seems it may be becoming even more difficult.
Recently FOX45 was shut out by the Speed Camera task force from a tour of the facility – a move the state ruled violated the open meetings act – followed by an instance in which the City Finance Board kicked FOX45 out of a meeting before approving a $100 million tax break for a developer.
It’s not just the city keeping crucial gatherings out of public view.
Not only did the House Judiciary Committee cancel a public hearing on the ongoing scandal at the Baltimore Detention Center last month, but FOX45 found out that members of the committee had a closed door Q&A session with top Maryland corrections officials. It’s another example in a series of moves which seem intent on keeping the press – and the public – out of the room as critical decisions are made.
Colin Drane, founder of media partner SpotCrime, maps crime around the country. He says even while some agencies are making it harder for him to get data, the public has increasingly higher expectations for access to the information they collect. Which is why some say the public’s right to know is more than worth the cost of fighting for it.
Even laws which require government agencies to make information available have loopholes. Recently FOX45 filed a legal request to learn how many warrants issued by parole officials had been ignored by judges. The same state agency that runs the scandal-ridden jails system told the station it would have to pay $32,000 for the data.
Just how much access should the public have to the inner workings of government, and what’s at stake if efforts to keep the public in the dark succeed? Advocates for transparency say quite a bit.
“When we look at the history of uncovering scandals in our government and government corruption, almost without fail it has been journalists who have done that,” media law expert Anne McKenna said. "There's no democracy without free speech and there's no democracy without free press."