Editorial: Starr rightfully highlighted Freedom of Information Act

Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist
Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist

In the book “WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency,” Micah L. Sifry chronicles the history of the modern transparency movement, pointing out that it has had proponents and detractors on both sides of the aisle. That’s despite the fact that pretty much everyone can agree that a more transparent government is something that would benefit all members of society.

President Ken Starr and others took the opportunity on Oct. 21 at a panel titled “Can Freedom of Information Survive U.S. Democracy (and Politics)?” to discuss whether American politics are suited for a shift toward more transparent government.

We praise President Starr for bringing attention to such an important issue.

The freedom of information is a noble subject for discussion and we appreciate that Starr would use his platform to start a dialogue about the issue.

Transparency is not an issue of the left or right; it is about the ability to ask our governments – both local and federal – to be honest and open in their dealings with each other and non-governmental organizations like journalists. Transparency was something that both President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain discussed in the previous election – one of few things that both parties agreed on was the government needed to be more transparent.

Nothing represents this interest more than the Freedom of Information Act, which was designed to encourage local governments – as well as non-exempt parts of the federal government – to release information requested by the public. It could reasonably be called the most major step toward transparency in American history.

The issue hit home last spring when the Lariat had to file a petition using the Freedom of Information Act to acquire documents the Waco Police Department would not disclose.

The Lariat requested information regarding the arrest of two men on Oct. 3, 2010. Waco Police originally told the Lariat the information could not be released until the case was taken to court, though the state attorney general’s office later confirmed this was not true.

Upon receiving the request, the police department must release the information or file a request for an opinion from the attorney general within 10-days. The Waco Police Department took all 10 days to do so, but the Lariat eventually received the records.

All American citizens will benefit from the existence of a more open government. Certainly there are situations in which national security interests demand a little more discretion in what information is released, but for the most part Americans are making great strides toward demanding their government officials be more open and honest.

We understand that Starr is extremely busy with all of his commitments, so we truly appreciate the fact that he would take the time to discuss this issue and make public statements about something that is so important to us as well as the American public at large.

Journalism itself would not exist without a level of transparency in the public dialogue and the public at large benefits from free journalism.

We hope that Starr will continue to bring attention to this issue. The Baylor community, as well the public at large, will be the beneficiaries of this effort.