Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council

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History of the Council

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The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council was created Oct. 31, 1978, about three weeks after 21 state journalists agreed informally that the group should be formed to protect First Amendment rights.

"Every time someone steps on the First Amendment, he will get a heck of a fight from the working press," Robert Meloon, executive editor of the Capital Times, told the journalists gathered in Madison.

The goal of the group, they agreed, would be to protect and promote access to public records and public meetings and to educate the public about press censorship issues.

Among those attending the Oct. 5 meeting were delegates from the:

  • Wisconsin Newspaper Association
  • Wisconsin Broadcasters Association
  • Wisconsin Broadcast News Council
  • Wisconsin Associated Press
  • Wisconsin United Press International
  • Society of Professional Journalists--Sigma Delta Chi

They appointed a six-member committee to organize the group and develop bylaws. Robert H. Wills, editor of The Milwaukee Sentinel, was named chairman of the steering committee.

Twenty-six days later, the bylaws were adopted and the council was formed.

The bylaws say the purpose of the councils is "to safeguard the right of the public to the information it must have to act responsibly in a free and democratic society and to monitor the climate in which state journalists must fulfill their obligation to society.

"Government conducted in the open benefits the public interest," the bylaws read.

Robert Wills, first Wisconsin FOIC president, said, "The role of the media is that of watchdog of government for the public. It follows that the guarantee of freed of information for the media really is a guarantee for the rights of people."

The founding journalists decided that the Wisconsin FOIC would have three members representing the public plus three representatives from each of the following:

  • Wisconsin Broadcasters Association
  • Broadcast News Council
  • Wisconsin Newspaper Association
  • Wisconsin Associated Press
  • United Press International
  • Society of Professional Journalists--Sigma Delta Chi
  • Wisconsin News Photographers Association

The first meeting of the Wisconsin FOIC was at 10 a.m. Dec. 20, 1978, at the Edgewater Hotel in Madison. Members voted to create three working committees and to organize the council as a non-stock, non-profit corporation.

Three Milwaukee Journal reporters--Neil Rosenberg, Joel McNally and David Bednarek--complained at the first meeting that the Wisconsin FOIC had only manager, no reporters, among its membership.

One month later, the Wisconsin FOIC voted to raise $25,000 in 1979 for possible litigation and public education. They suggested seeking donations from such groups as the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Reporter¹s Committee for Freedom of the Press and Sigma Delta Chi, an organization of professional journalists.

Dues were proposed of $50 a year for sponsoring organizations, $40 a year for non-voting member groups and $10 a year for non-voting individual members.

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