By LCDR Tony Russell
Press Secretary to the Commandant

Security Debrief’s “Homeland Blogwatch” recently carried a repost by Coast Guard Report, which is a Web site not affiliated with the U. S. Coast Guard. The post simplified and mischaracterized information provided by Admiral Thad Allen during a DOD sponsored Bloggers Roundtable.

To ensure your readers have complete information, I encourage them to view the transcript of the Roundtable. They can also listen to the event.

To be clear, the Coast Guard does not hold the position that all bloggers are not journalists. The Commandant’s point was that not all bloggers are appropriately categorized as “news media” for the sake of
Freedom of Information Act fees.

The Coast Guard is committed to organizational transparency and compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552. Any entity or person may have access to government documents under
FOIA unless the documents are exempted from release. The Coast Guard is guided by the Department of Justice Freedom of Information Act Guide, the Coast Guard Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts Manual (COMDTINST M5260.3.l), and legal precedent. COMDTINST M5260.3 sets policy and procedures for responding to FOIA requests. For the most part, requestors pay for the cost of producing material in response to a FOIA request and the Coast Guard FOIA manual guides Coast Guard personnel in categorizing requestors and then calculating applicable fees for searching, reviewing, and duplicating responsive FOIA materials based on the requestor’s category.

If a requester is categorized as “representative of the news media,” then only duplication fees after the first 100 pages are assessed. Whether alternative media (i.e. bloggers) are eligible for categorization as “representative of the news media” is an evolving legal issue based on the extent to which the alternative media has infused its content with sufficient journalistic rigor and whether it is organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public.

Simply put, not all online content constitutes journalism that warrants the cost of FOIA production to be borne by the American taxpayer. This is not a value judgment on the content of a blog or other online site, it is simply the application of federal law and guidelines in determining whether an activity is journalism, the Coast Guard may consider a requestor’s past work as compared to accepted professional standards of journalism, including, but not limited to:

The Coast Guard’s intent is to achieve openness of its records by applying U.S. government guidelines consistently in a way that does not burden the U. S. taxpayer with underwriting the FOIA requests of individuals or groups that are not eligible for a lower fee level.

LCDR Tony Russell,
Press Secretary to the Commandant
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