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Media chief: Attitudes shifting to less secrecy

The Associated Press leader, speaking at Penn State, noted advancing open-government bills.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - A sea change in attitudes about government secrecy has led Congress to the verge of revising the Freedom of Information Act, the Associated Press' president and chief executive officer said in a commencement address here yesterday.

Tom Curley told graduating seniors at Pennsylvania State University's College of Communications that the perception of the importance of open government had changed since he gave a speech on the topic three years ago, when the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks were still fresh in the minds of media leaders.

At that time, many felt that a freedom-of-information campaign would be seen as aiding terrorists, but "today we stand on the brink of the first update of the Freedom of Information Act in 40 years," said Curley, a member of the media Sunshine in Government Initiative.

The U.S. House in March passed five open-government bills, including one that would give the public and media more clout in FOIA requests, after Democratic leaders criticized what they called the secretive nature of the Bush administration. The measures, which were sent to the Senate, had strong Republican support.

"The conversation has shifted," Curley said. "It's now seen as strengthening democracy through transparency."

The Bush administration has said it opposes the bill and has threatened to veto legislation dealing with presidential records and whistle-blowers.

"May you become a beacon for what's right for your family, your community, or maybe even the world," Curley told the roughly 620 communications graduates. "You have what it takes to stand up and fight. Try to enjoy it, too."

In total, more than 8,400 seniors are graduating this spring from Penn State.