The Burlington Free Press Wins 2002 FOI Award
A compelling freedom of information series by The Burlington Free Press won this year’s Joseph L. Brechner Center for Freedom of Information award, according to Sandra Chance, director of the Brechner Center. The series, titled: “Code of Silence,” graphically demonstrates how a lack of public information about physicians in Vermont lead to life-altering injuries and unnecessary deaths. The series was recognized at the 17th Annual Brechner Center for Freedom of Information award celebration on Nov. 12. Geoffrey Gevalt, the newspaper’s managing editor, will accept the $3,000 award for The Burlington Free Press.
The four-part series, documenting the life and death of Lois Tarczewski, revealed how the medical profession’s “code of silence” protected a doctor’s records of past problems and how the state regulatory system, which was cloaked in secrecy, served the interests of doctors over consumers.
Following the publication of this gripping series, public officials in Vermont ultimately reformed their system to require more accountability on the part of doctors. State legislators also passed new laws opening the state’s physicians’ records so people could make more informed decisions about medical care.
“This series is an excellent example of why access to public records are important to everyone,” according to Chance. “The public sometimes mistakenly believes that public records laws benefit only the news media. This series graphically demonstrates how these right-to-know laws help ordinary citizens make critically important choices, like the selection of a doctor.”
Through the series, Vermonters learned how the government was protecting negligent doctors by confidentiality rules and preventing patients from getting information that could save their lives. The resulting public outcry was loud enough to get the attention of the state’s lawmakers and regulators. As a result, Vermonters have access to valuable information they can use to make important health care choices.
The project was lauded by the judges for its excellent writing, thorough research and its impact on an issue of vital importance to consumers and their right to know. “The Burlington Free Press stories underscored a successful fight to open records for the public and why freedom of information is so important,” according to the panel of independent judges.