Working to keep the sun shining

March 6, 2013 01:30

By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director

Your RTDNA is part of a group of journalism organizations which support the Sunshine in Government Initiative (SIG). SIG works hard to push for open access on behalf of its members and all journalists. RTDNA’s participation in the group is lead by our great First Amendment counsel, Kathy Kirby of Wiley Rein in DC. And SIG has been busy lately, on a number of fronts, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.  

For example, the Obama administration had promised to be out front in efforts to make the federal government much more transparent and open than in years past.   But it doesn’t appear to be working out that way,

SIG members are supporting the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which recently sent a bipartisan letter to the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy demanding answers as to why the agency is delaying compliance with FOIA requests and how it plans to deal with significant backlogs of requests to various federal agencies. The Committee wanted some answers by February 22.  So far, it’s received none of which we’re aware.

We told you in an earlier issue of the RTDNA Daily about efforts by SIG to raise overall awareness of FOIA issues and the existence of the FOIA Portal, where you can make requests to access information. It’s called “FOIAonline.”

The problem is that few federal agencies seem to be paying much attention to it. So it’s effectiveness is marginal right now. SIG is encouraging journalists to contact individual agencies to ask them if they plan to make use of the system.  You can follow the efforts on Twitter at #FOIASurvey.

The Sunshine in Government Initiative is an important group, keeping watch over a variety of important access and First Amendment issues.  We’ll keep you updated as to the issues and the progress we’re making.

Sunshine Week, an opportunity to highlight the importance of open government, is returning for its ninth year during the week of March 10-16, 2013. Launched in response to attempts by lawmakers to thwart public records and open meetings laws, Sunshine Week has grown to involve thousands of people inside and outside the news profession, who value transparency in government. RTDNA is among dozens of groups supporting the effort.

To be a part of Sunshine Week, consider offering your readers, listeners and viewers stories that highlight open government laws and ordinances in your state and community. Does your legislature, county commission, city council or school board comply with the rules? Do lawmakers overuse "executive sessions" to keep the public from hearing debate over important issues? Does your government fail to post online or make available public records as required by statute? These and
more ideas are ways to remind your audience of the value of open government and the role of journalists in maintain access.

With the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, RTDNA offers
public service announcements which can be aired on your station or your website. Is your station taking part in Sunshine Week? Let us know in the comments below.