Members of the American media, librarians, instructors, and government officials alike will gather March 11-17 to celebrate National Sunshine Week 2012. Established by the American Society of News Editors in 2005 and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Sunshine Week is national initiative to foster awareness of the importance of open government and freedom of information.
The 1966 Freedom of Information Act requires all federal agencies to release their records, unless the information is protected from the public through various exemptions. Under FOIA, individuals can request records from any agency.
The website for Sunshine Week provides participants with an online toolkit of resources that can be used to promote the public’s “right to know,” including free access to opinion columns and editorial cartoons, an interactive quiz and a list of Sunshine activities occurring around the country. The website also includes an Idea Bank which lists various ways for journalists, activists and ordinary citizens to get involved in their communities.
Among other events, the Missouri Sunshine Coalition will host a public forum this Thursday, March 15 to inform citizens how they can effectively encourage governmental disclosure, as well as honoring local “Sunshine Heroes” for championing open government, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
In light of Sunshine Week, the Society of Professional Journalists recently released a survey of 146 American journalists which found that public affairs officers often regulate interviews with federal agencies. The survey was conducted by Dr. Carolyn S. Carlson, Assistant Professor of Communication at Kennesaw State University and Dr. David Cuillier, Director of the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona.
The survey indicated that the majority of journalists encounter barriers to information during interviews with federal agencies, including pre-approval from public affairs officers, selective routing, interview monitoring or prohibition from interviewing altogether.
About 70% of the journalists surveyed said they agreed with the statement, “I consider government agency controls over who I interview a form of censorship.” About 85% agreed that the barriers imposed by agencies on journalists prevent the public from receiving the information needed.
Though recent sentiments of the surveyed journalists might suggest otherwise, the United States remains on par with other developed countries in terms of awareness of right-to-know laws. An 11-month investigation conducted by the Associated Press in November indicated that the US eventually provided all information requested by the AP, while other countries were unhelpful or completely unresponsive, as previously reported.
“I don't think many people even knew that 105 countries had these laws on the books," said John Daniszewski, AP Vice President and Senior Managing Editor for International News, “and in some of the countries in which we used them they were virtually unused.”
The WPFC and UNESCO conference in Paris last month, “The Media World after WikiLeaks and News of the World,” also examined the state of freedom of information worldwide and found that the number of governments restricting internet expression has increased from four to 40 since 2002.
Today, 12 March, is also Reporters Without Borders' World Day against Cyber Censorship.