The Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association has voted to endorse the Massachusetts Free Flow of Information Act. The bill (Senate Docket 2406) would protect members of the news media in Massachusetts from being compelled to reveal sources, notes and other materials used in their reporting.
MNPA President Kay Berenson, publisher of The Recorder newspaper in Greenfield, said, “This bill is about recognizing and protecting the vital role journalists play in protecting the public’s access to the truth about government, corporations and other important institutions. I encourage legislators to pass it.”
Senate President Robert E. Travaglini submitted the bill in October. It was drafted by an ad hoc committee of news media representatives chaired by Charles J. Kravetz, vice president of news at NECN. MNPA members who served on the committee were Alfred S. Larkin Jr., executive vice president of The Boston Globe, Larry A. McDermott, publisher of The Republican, and Robert J. Ambrogi, MNPA executive director.
Based on bills proposed by the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Associaton, state Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford), chairman of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, yesterday unveiled major legislation to reform Massachusetts’ open meeting law. “Today, in an age of government spying, secret wiretapping and increasing government secrecy, we must renew our commitment to openness,” Rep Cabral said.
The reform legislation has five main initiatives:
– It would strengthen the language of the open meeting law to include current communication technology. Real-time electronic communication between government bodies would be subject to the same rules as meetings held in person.
– It would create an Open Meeting Law Board to oversee complaints and violations of the open meeting law and oversee a new Office of Government Accountability, housed in the Office of the Attorney General, to provide increased resources to investigating violations.
– For the first time in this state, it would impose civil fines on individual members of boards who violate the law.
– Boards subject to the open meeting law would be required to post meeting agendas as part of required meeting notices.
– It would close some exceptions to the current law which allow for closed executive sessions.
The bill, based on legislation filed last year by the MNPA, has not been assigned a number.
More Sunshine Week coverage from Massachusetts newspapers:
See also: Round-up of Sunshine Week coverage.
From today’s MetroWest Daily News:
“Some reforms backed by newspaper advocates intended to thwart local and state boards from going behind closed doors to decide public matters may get a boost from lawmakers.
“The co-chairman of a legislative committee is pushing a bill to overhaul the state Open Meeting Law for the first time in three decades. The law was designed to make sure most meetings of governmental boards and committees are open to the public, with just a few specific exemptions.”
Today marks the start of Sunshine Week and several Massachusetts newspapers marked the day with reporting and opinion:
From the Sentinel & Enterprise:
“Schools’ Secret Session Notes Under Wraps
“By Kyle Alspach
“FITCHBURG — The School Committee met in secret sessions eight times in 2005, but has yet to release any records of those meetings to the public.
“The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law allows public boards to meet privately about some issues.
“But the records may only remain secret as long as ‘publication may defeat the lawful purposes’ of the session, according to the law.”
From today’s Medfield Press:
“Perhaps the School Committee didn’t realize they were not following the state’s Open Meeting Law, but any policeman will tell you: Ignorance of the law is no defense.
“Executive sessions held by the School Committee may have been justified according to the reasons given in state law for holding a closed session.”
The district attorney’s office for Middlesex County has dismissed a complaint that a town conservation commission member violated the state’s open meetings law by sending an e-mail to other board members complaining about the board’s chair, the MetroWest Daily News reports today.
Assistant DA Loretta Lillios dismissed the complaint because the alleged violation was later remedied by making the e-mail part of the public record. In so doing, however, she cautioned that the law clearly applies to e-mails:
“As you know, this office has long held that private communications, including e-mail communications, that occur among a quorum of a governmental body, and that concern substantive matters within the jurisdiction of the governmental body, violate the Open Meeting Law. Like private conversations held in person or over the telephone, such e-mail conversations deprive the public of the opportunity to attend and monitor these e-mail ’meetings’ and are a serious violation of the Open Meeting Law.”