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Bank Beat

Freedom of Information

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With FOIA Reforms Blocked by Bank Lobbyists, Silence by NYT, Reuters

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 10 -- With the window closing on a bill to improve the US Freedom of Information Act, after outgoing Democratic Senator from West Virginia Jay Rockefeller put a block on the bill, S. 2520 (statement here), which he then removed, now bank lobbyists are in the way. 

   And STILL there's been little coverage by media like the New York Times and Reuters.

 Here is the Senate report, providing multiple assurances to banks on FOIA Exemption 8:

"Extreme care should be taken with respect to disclosure under Exemption 8 which protects matters that are 'contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.' [FN 20: 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(8)]

  Here is the official summary of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014:

FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 - Amends the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to:

(1) require federal agencies to make agency records that can be disclosed under such Act available for public inspection in an electronic format,

(2) limit the authority of an agency to charge a fee if the agency misses a deadline for complying with a FOIA request,

(3) establish a presumption in favor of disclosure and prohibit the application of exemptions from FOIA based on technicalities,

(4) expand the authority and duties of the Chief FOIA Officer of each agency for promoting compliance with the FOIA disclosure requirements, and

(5) establish a Chief FOIA Officers Council to develop recommendations for increasing compliance with FOIA
requirements. Requires the head of each federal agency to:

(1) review agency regulations and issue regulations for the disclosure of records in accordance with the amendments to FOIA made by this Act, and

(2) include in such regulations procedures for engaging in dispute resolution through the FOIA Public Liaison and the Office of Government Information Services. Expands the program for the efficient management of federal agency records to require agency heads to establish procedures for:

(1) identifying records of general interest or use to the public that are appropriate for public disclosure, and

(2) posting such records in a publicly-accessible electronic format. Prohibits the authorization of additional funds to carry out the requirements of this Act.

 Now, even after Senator Rockefeller under pressure removed his block and then the House is lobbied not to take it up, where is the coverage, for example in the New York Times and Reuters? 

  Back in July, US Voice of America as propaganda was belatedly covered by the Times, but ignoring the role of VOA and its Broadcasting Board of Governors as censors, trying for example to get the investigative Press thrown out of the United Nations (where it and the Free UN Coalition for the Access are pushing for a FOIA for the UN. At the UN, Reuters is in the business of censoring information, such as its "for the record" complaint to the UN trying to get the investigative Press thrown out, via, here.)

  The Times covered the House of Representative bill which Inner City Press panned in April, focusing on a split between the union and some who work at VOA. 

   Alongside the draft US law to further make "clear that the Voice of America mission is to support U.S. public diplomacy efforts," there are still claims that VOA currently is more independent than this.

   At the United Nations, this has hardly been the case. Significantly, Voice of America not only at the UN but from its Washington headquarters, in a formal complaint submitted to the current UN spokesman by editor Steve Redisch with the approval of supervisor David Ensor, asked the UN to "review the accreditation" of the investigative Press, click here for that.

  In e-mails subsequently obtained by Inner City Press under the Freedom of Information Act, the VOA bureau chief sought and said she had obtained support for censorship from the United Nations Correspondents Association and the bureau chiefs of Agence France Presse and Reuters, here, here and then here (censorship under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

  Back on January 8, with Voice of America's Broadcasting Board of Governors still not having addressed censorship bids by VOA which it oversees, President Obama nominated to the BBG Michael W. Kempner, a founder of New Jersey's ConnectOne Bancorp and a bundler of campaign contributions.

   We asked and ask again, why does the US government need a propaganda network, and why turn it loose inside the US? And why would its BBG, after first granting Freedom of Information Act access and fee waivers then try to reverse all this after the documents released proved embarrassing?

  After that, BBG's FOIA Officer Andrew Krog suspended processing in the October 2013 government "funding lapse;" then Appeals Access Committee chair Marie Lennon denied access to any documents about taxpayer funded BBG programming in Sudan and Afghanistan (see below.)

This is one example of why the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 is needed.

 Back on July 2, 2013, Inner City Press published a short critique of Voice of America and its Broadcasting Board of Governors, here.

  In the three days that followed, mail poured in providing yet more detailed accounts of BBG and Voice of America incompetence and assaults on the principles they supposedly uphold.

  The union that represents workers there, AFGE Local 1812, has written that

poor morale was made markedly worse by a decision in 2010 to re-appoint the present newsroom director [Sonja Pace]. A correspondent since the 1980’s, she had been reassigned from the position of news chief more than a decade earlier. Fast forward to 2010: An audio recording of an open meeting in VOA’s newsroom shows that strong protests against the reappointment of the former news director were dismissed by VOA's Executive Editor [Steve Redisch] a former CNN employee. In the recording, the Executive Editor rejected staff concerns, saying 'you’re responsible for your own morale.' Though he has known of the morale crisis in VOA’s Central News Division created by the 2010 decision, current VOA director David Ensor has allowed this situation to continue.”

  Inner City Press in 2012 had its own experience of these three individuals. VOA's Executive Editor Steve Redisch wrote to the UN asking that Inner City Press' accreditation be “reviewed.”

  The only communication Inner City Press had received from VOA or BBG in Washington prior to this was from Sonja Pace, that “regarding VOA’s Charter and Code, we absolutely stand by those mandates and guidelines, without exception.”

  Apparently Voice of America's principles don't include the First Amendment. Subsequent inquiring under the Freedom of Information Act found David Ensor involved in the decision to try to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. Ensor served the US State Department in Afghanistan and perhaps re-formed his view of press freedom there.

  In mid 2013, the Obama administration nominated former Afghanistan envoy Ryan Crocker to join the then half-empty Broadcasting Board of Governors, along with John Kerry, while claiming that the output under the BBG is entirely independent from the US government. This is not credible.

  The Colombia Journalism Review, with its own conflicts, has made this point, and BBG has belatedly responded. Will any of this finally bring accountability? Watch this site.

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