Barbara Peterson, 20-year leader of the First Amendment Foundation, was joined by Press Club of Southwest Florida (NPC) member and award-winning investigative journalist and Watchdog City founder, Gina Edwards, and Amy Tardif, chairwoman of the Radio Television Digital News Association, for a panel discussion regarding open government. Approximately 100 people attended the presentation on Feb. 5 with many NPC members in the crowd.
The panel’s discussion title, “Closed Government: Eroding Public Records Access,” covered issues relating to open government, public officials abusing power, innovations in access and reporting, the use of drones, whether or not text messages are public record, investigative reporters, a reasonable charge for a copy of a public record, and what falls under exemption from sunshine law.
Petersen and Tardif agreed that Florida has the most progressive open government laws in the country, but Tardif also said that the World Press Freedom Index ranks the U.S. 49th behind countries such as El Salvador.
Edwards primarily focused on addressing access, along with speaking about her own court cases fighting for the freedom of information. “We fight this fight because we know transparency is the foundation of public trust,” she said.
Alan Horton, retired newspaper executive and investigative reporter, said that Edwards is a great investigative reporter who is essentially a private investigator without a license or badge and armed only with the first amendment.
After the panel members spoke, audience members were able to submit questions about public records and access. Horton wrapped up the discussion by urging the audience to do one thing: Ask public officials whether or not they are in favor of open government.