RTDNA celebrates Sunshine Week March 13-19

March 14, 2016 11:00

Each year in March, Sunshine Week is observed by newsrooms across the country, drawing attention to the need for open government. Started by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, the program expanded nationwide twelve years ago, spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors, with the help of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and dozens of media organizations, including RTDNA. This year, Sunshine Week will be marked March 13-19.

In the midst of Sunshine Week is National Freedom of Information Day, conceived by radio talk show host Jim Bohannon. The day is celebrated on March 16 to honor the birthday of President James Madison, founder of the Bill of Rights. This year on the 16th, RTDNA Executive Director Mike Cavender and Society of Professional Journalists President Paul Fletcher will be guests on Bohannon's syndicated radio show, to mark the occasion and discuss the state of freedom of information in the country today.

"As the Freedom of Information Act turns 50 years old, we continue to see misguided attempts to undermine its principles by government agencies, members of Congress and state legislatures around the country," said Cavender. "Now more than ever, Americans should understand the need for transparency in government and having public access to the public's business.

To hear the broadcast on March 16th, find a station near you and listen during the show's second hour (11pm-Midnight in most east coast markets).

RTDNA is also part of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, which works for open access to government meetings and documents. Among the initiative's resources is an online portal to request access to government information, called FOIAonline. And RTDNA works all year long to support freedom of information at all levels of government.

RTDNA urges newsrooms to make note of Sunshine Week, and to offer their readers, listeners and viewers stories that highlight open government laws and ordinances in their states and communities.

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. There is also a toolkit available for publications to use. Detailed contact information for leaders in Freedom of Information issues can be found in this state-by-state guide offered by the Society of Professional Journalists.

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? Do you have government transparency horror stories or success stories? Let us know in the comments below.