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Media Praise Obama FOIA Fixes

Broadcasters, newspapers and others were quick to heap praise on the president for his pledge to be more responsive to Freedom of Information Act requests than his predecessor, who was much criticized on that front.

"It's wonderful that Priority One on Day One for this administration is transparency and restoring public trust," said Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative.

The initiative was created by AP, the American Society Of Newspaper Editors, the National Association of Broadcasters and others to lobby for more open government and in the face of the Bush administration's invocation of national security to overclassify documents as well as its foot-dragging on complying with FOIA requests.

"President Obama has made strong statements that should have lasting impact on how the government operates," said Blum. "Yesterday's policy of 'when in doubt, leave it out,' today became, 'when it doubt, let it out,' and this policy will help keep the public informed in our technology-driven, connected society. On open government, the dawn is breaking."

The president has even pledged an extra layer of oversight when he wants to keep something from public view.

The Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press was pleased as well, but tried to temper the euphoria.

"We're greatly encouraged that the Obama administration has decided to let the sun shine in by making government transparency a priority," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office. "FOIA is an invaluable tool not just for reporters and advocacy organizations, but for all Americans. An accountable government is an effective government, and it can only be sustained when its citizens are fully informed.

"This memorandum reverses the Ashcroft Doctrine put in place by the Bush administration instructing agencies to withhold information whenever there is a ‘sound legal basis,' she said. "It restores the presumption of disclosure and demands that agencies take affirmative steps to make information public rather than waiting for specific requests. This approach to FOIA is just the antidote we need to remedy the kind of opaque governing we saw during the last eight years. Sunshine is, indeed, the best of disinfectants and we have great hope for a new and untainted era of government."

The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, which is a member of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, tempered some of that euphoria.

"That this message was issued on Day One is a huge step toward opening access to the federal government," said the Committee in a statement on its Web site. "And it is crucial that this message came from the very top. "

But there was a a caveat:  "However, the public will need to be no less diligent in utilizing the laws to request information and continuing to hold this new administration accountable just as any other."