Freedom of Information Summit heads to New Orleans

Please also see the press release here [PDF/557KB].

Annual open government conference brings together FOI and transparency advocates from across the country.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (April 5, 2013) — The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) announced discussion topics for the 2013 FOI Summit in New Orleans, including the changing news media environment, ways to enable greater access through technology, and tips for strengthening state organizations.

2013 FOI SummitThe annual FOI Summit, a national conference concentrating on open government convened in collaboration with the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), will be held Friday, May 17, and Saturday, May 18, at the Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel. PAR is the state-based co-host for this year’s Summit.

Moderating panel discussions are: David Marcello, president of the Public Law Center at Tulane University; Mark Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE); Peter Scheer, executive director of the San Rafael, CA-based First Amendment Coalition; Scott Sternberg, a New Orleans media law and access attorney; and Linda Lightfoot, recently retired executive editor of The Advocate, the Baton Rouge-based daily that recently started a New Orleans edition.

“We are pleased with the energy and enthusiasm PAR is contributing to what I expect will be one of our best national conferences ever,” said Kenneth F. Bunting, NFOIC’s executive director. “With any luck, we will have record attendance, more states represented, more diversity and more student participation than any previous Summit.”

Friday’s program consists of one panel, “Yes, you CAN . . . ,” which promises practical tips for strengthening state Freedom of Information (FOI) groups, and a roundtable discussion, “Ideas Marketplace,” during which advocates from around the country share obstacles and successes in meeting transparency challenges in their respective states and regions.

The lineup of Saturday panels includes:

  • “The Deliberative Process 150 Years Post-Lincoln,” which references the Oscar-nominated film based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," and asks how much access transparent government demands and how much confidential council should be permitted.
  • “Not a Picayune Problem,” which focuses on transformational changes taking place nationwide in the media industry and the impact those changes are having on open government advocacy.
  • “Digital Dodges and the Email Sleight of Hand,” which will examine the use of private email accounts and clever tricks like email aliases to shield otherwise public communications from compelled disclosure, and
  • “Technology and Access: Promise, Possibility and Perils,” a far-ranging discussion on the impacts of advancing technology on government transparency, media and privacy concerns.

NFOIC and PAR will announce in coming days both a keynote speaker and the name of the 2013 inductee into “Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame.”

Registration fees range from $95 for Summit access that includes an NFOIC individual membership to $35 for students presenting a valid ID. The registration fee covers admittance to all sessions and panels, Friday's reception, a breakfast Saturday morning at the annual members' meeting, Saturday's lunch, and Saturday's reception.

NFOIC is a nonpartisan alliance of citizen-driven nonprofit freedom of information organizations, academic and First Amendment centers, journalistic societies and attorneys. It traces its origins and history to national assemblies that state freedom of information (FOI) advocates held in Dallas in 1989 and 1991. Headquartered at the Missouri School of Journalism since 2005, the organization promotes open government by supporting a broad range of groups and endeavors in individual states.

Besides supporting and coalescing its state and regional affiliate organizations, the NFOIC administers the Knight FOI Fund, which offers financial support to defray costs and expenses in open government lawsuits throughout the year. It offers a national, collective voice on freedom of information and transparency issues.

PAR is a private, nonprofit, non-partisan public policy research organization founded in 1950. In addition to serving as a catalyst for governmental reform, PAR also has a program of citizen education, believing that the soundest way to achieve political progress is through deep-rooted public understanding and support.

Robert Scott, president of PAR, said a Summit like this is valuable to the cause of open government because it brings people together in a face-to-face setting.

"There is a lot of value in the direct contact,” Scott said. “When people come together like this, it elevates the issues. You can't just rest on platitudes; you have to engage in a dialogue, and that's not something you can do in any other way."

The Summit shines a light on the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and offers an opportunity for NFOIC members and others to get a clear view of disclosure and access laws, state by state. The conference brings together access advocates from all over the country to highlight recent successes and share ideas for combating secrecy in the future.

Visit NFOIC’s Summit homepage <http://www.nfoic.org/2013-foi-summit> for more information and future updates to the schedule and program.