The Free Press Initiative

A free press informs the people and serves as their mouthpiece; its value to our democracy cannot be overstated. Nevertheless, press freedoms are routinely challenged both by the denial by government of access to public records and proceedings, and the placement of restrictions on what may be published. Unfortunately, individual journalists and the general public are often unaware of their rights and without resources to turn back these challenges. Thus, the ideal of the free press is too often unfulfilled. Greater education about free press rights and advocacy to ensure that these rights are honored is greatly needed.

FAP, through the three components of its Free Press Initiative, confronts these challenges head on.

Public Education: FAP, in collaboration with the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) of Northern California, currently publishes three freedom of information pocket guides: Open Meetings Laws in California: The Brown Act, The California Public Records Act, and Access to Courts and Court Records in California. FAP also conducts free newsroom and public seminars on these same freedom of information issues. FAP conducts seminars on other cutting edge free press topics such as web activism and on- line defamation and will so begin preparation of additional publications such as a Web Activists' First Amendment Guide.

Advice Hotlines: FAP operates email and telephone advice hotlines which enable FAP to provide quick advice and referrals on First Amendment expression, government access and press issues to journalists, artists, activists, students and others.

Legal Representation: FAP has been at the forefront of public records and publication defense litigation in California since its founding. FAP has assisted journalists and activists seeking information, for example, about insurance industry redlining and compliance with environmental and consumer protection laws. In September 2000, FAP collected one of the largest fee awards in California public records history for seven years of work done on behalf of the San Francisco Bay Guardian to obtain records of police complaints. FAP has also represented amici curiae in briefs to courts around the country. Recently FAP, on a pro bono basis, coordinated and co-authored the brief on behalf of the Newspaper Association of America, the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press, Online News Association and others urging the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to reverse a ruling that would allow for injunctions against and create liability for journalists who include certain links in online publications. FAP also defends clients against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), that is in which publishers are sued for exercising their First Amendment rights to publish, speak and petition the government.