In this case, Oklahoma is a winner.

Our state is one of five awarded a program to expand legal support for local news.

Thanks to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’s launch of the Oklahoma Local Legal Initiative, Oklahoma journalists will now have a go-to legal source to help them against entities that challenge requests for transparency.

KatieBeth Gardner was recently hired as attorney for the Oklahoma Local Legal Initiative to provide pro bono legal support to local journalists and news organizations pursuing enterprise and investigative reporting across the state.

This position will help journalists access public information, attend government proceedings and challenge legal threats that hinder their ability to keep their communities informed.

RCFP received submissions from more than 30 states, regions and territories for the initiative, which was launched in 2019 with an investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The $10 million initiative also was awarded to Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Colorado.

Our state’s grant application included the Oklahoma Press Association, the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, Oklahoma Watch, The Frontier, Freedom of Information Oklahoma, the Society of Professional Journalists, StateImpact Oklahoma, the Public Radio Network and the Native American Journalist Association.

The groups that applied for the grant all shared an awareness that a legal expert was needed to “help support journalists as they try to report on everything from COVID to criminal justice records and everything else,” said Andy Moore, FOI Oklahoma executive director

Often, media outlets don’t have the money to tackle government entities who are paying for it all with taxpayers’ funds, said OPA Executive Vice President Mark Thomas.

“There are lots of well-meaning, fully compliant public bodies and elected officials who believe in transparency, and they are to be commended and held up as examples of good governance,” Thomas said. “But there are some that cause a problem for everybody else. Those are the ones we’ll be trying to tackle and effectively change their ways through the courts, if it comes to that.”

The launching of this legal initiative is great news for Oklahoma journalism.

These are challenging times for the industry, and not only because of the economic slump exacerbated by the pandemic.

Media are all being painted with the “fake news” brush, for one thing, and sunshine, in the form of the light shined by the independent press, is not always welcomed in the darkest recesses of local government.

By holding government accountable, a free press plays an integral part in protecting the public’s right to know.

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