National Sunshine Week begins today. This is the annual observance of open government, an event that hits close to home for us this year. With the Great Bend Tribune’s stonewalled efforts to find out information about a fatal shooting and the unconstitutional efforts to slap a gag order on proceeding participants to prevent them from talking to the media, we have become more keenly aware of the need for openness.
Created by journalists to cast sunlight into the dark corners of officialdom, Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why. This can be about something on the national level, such the spreading of misinformation in this grade school playground-like presidential campaign, or closer to home when local government officials try to stifle the press.
Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger. As with the cases cited above, public safety could be at risk.
Participants include news media, government officials at all levels, schools and universities, libraries and archives, individuals, non-profit and civic organizations, historians and anyone with an interest in open government.
You see, it is about more than newspapers. The Kansas Open Records Act and Kansas Open Meetings Act assure the media access to public information, but these also assure this access to the general public.
The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors launched Sunshine Sunday in 2002 in response to efforts by some Florida legislators to create scores of new exemptions to the state’s public records law. FSNE estimates that some 300 exemptions to open government laws were defeated in the legislative sessions that followed its three Sunshine Sundays, because of the increased public and legislative awareness that resulted from the Sunshine Sunday reports and commentary.
Several states followed Florida’s lead, and in June 2003, ASNE hosted a Freedom of Information Summit in Washington where the seeds for Sunshine Week were planted.
With an inaugural grant from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has continued to support the effort, Sunshine Week was launched by the American Society of News Editors in March 2005. This non-partisan, non-profit initiative is celebrated in mid-March each year to coincide with James Madison’s birthday on March 16.
Madison is considered by many to be the father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Any democracy requires an informed electorate. And, any government in a democracy must operate in such away to allow this flow of information.
Sunshine Week is an opportunity for the media, the public and leaders at all levels to remember this. We are watching.