By MPR News editor Bill Wareham
Earlier this week, Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), announced it was accepting nominations for a new award. It could well be argued that industry awards tend to be overly self-congratulatory and are handed out a little too freely. But this award, the Golden Padlock, is different:
“This honor acknowledges the dedication of government officials working tirelessly to keep vital information hidden from the public,” said David Cay Johnston, president of IRE . “Their abiding commitment to secrecy and impressive skill in information suppression routinely keeps knowledge about everything from public health risks to government waste beyond the reach of citizens who pay their salaries.”
The organization’s acronym is no mistake. It was chosen in 1975 to reflect the founders’ “sense of outrage.” That outrage was on display in one IRE forum after the Golden Padlock was announced. Almost everyone who has been in this business for awhile has stories of public servants frustrating their attempts to get information to which anyone in is entitled. One journalist in the forum cited a three-year wait to get a denial of a Freedom of Information request. Others routinely cite processing charges totally out of proportion to the request, data redacted into meaninglessness or delivered in unusable formats.
But the Golden Padlock does present one dilemma: Often the best tool for dislodging information from the government is charm, and an agency nominated for the Golden Padlock is unlikely to be charmed by the honor.
Know of a government group you deem worthy of a Golden Padlock? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org by May 24.