SPJNE’s testimony for Mass. Public Records Law reform
Testimony of the Society of Professional Journalists, New England Chapter, Danielle McLean, President, to the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, Senator Joan Lovely & Representative Peter Kocot, Chairpersons. Presented by Bill Marcus.
Massachusetts State House, Room B-1
Tuesday, May 26, 11am – 1pm
Chairwoman Lovely, Chairman Kocot, thank you for the opportunity to testify.
My name is Bill Marcus. I represent the New England chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest, most broad-based journalism organization.
Here in Massachusetts SPJNE members report, write, photograph, and voice news for over a hundred local, national, and international media outlets.
We are also media executives, and professors and students of journalism.
The New England Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists enthusiastically supports passage of Senate 1676/ House 2772.
We support its prohibitions on impairing or restricting public access to records, its establishment and empowerment of records access officers to facilitate timely and thorough records requests and assist requesters, and its limit on fees for records reproduction.
We are especially enthusiastic about Section 6(f) which requires public Internet access of records.
But with regard to Section 5(b) which speaks to compelling compliance, we ask if an advisory records access board made up of representatives of the interests testifying here today would help facilitate day-to-day administration of this program.
We also ask if the implementation of this statute would be more effective if one individual state-wide was directed to coordinate and be a liaison to such an advisory board.
She or he could facilitate our needs and interests balancing them with the policy demands of the Commonwealth so that we could both – as the bill says, “contribute significantly to the public understanding of operations or activities of government.”
Where I’m from in New York we have a Committee on Open Government headed up by a man named Robert Freeman. Surely in this matter Boston – the home of the beloved Red Sox – would not allow itself to be shown up by the state that is home to the Yankees.
S1676/H2772 also does not make specific reference to the records of the judiciary.
I’m now covering a case of an Irish national whose situation has excited heightened interest in Ireland.
As a reporter, I would like to be able to access the records of the judicial docket without having to make numerous physical trips to the Middlesex Superior Court Clerk in Woburn.
But there is a more profound need to expand electronic access to court records. My readers and listeners in Ireland would like to know for themselves what is going on in this case.
Because of this case Irish commentators are expressing – to be polite – a lack of trust in our judicial system. An expansion of this bill to include Internet access to judicial records could help counter that perception.
But more important than that — affordable electronic access to our court records and an Internet index of court records is a function of the healthy republic.
As the home of the revolution that begat American representative democracy, we should want to continue to be that model for the whole world.
For these reasons, the New England Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists hopes you can keep that revolutionary spirit alive by expanding and passing this bill.
For the Society of Professional Journalist, New England Chapter