Sunshine Week ushers progress

This week journalists have been celebrating Sunshine Week, which is dedicated to giving attention to government and public records access. Also this week, more than 50 different journalist groups come together and requested to release some public records. This right is granted by the Freedom of Information Act.

Last year seemed pretty successful for Sunshine Week when legislators got a bipartisan bill going through the Senate. The bill would create a committee to speed up requests for information and sidestep processing requests through court, which is what has been done in the past.

This bill has also been supported by both liberal and conservative groups, for example, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Heritage Foundation.

I believe strongly in the public’s right to access of government information. We should be able to get certain public records unless it affects our national security.

John Cornyn, R-Texas, who was one of the sponsors for the bill, said, “There are unfortunately many issues in the Senate Judiciary Committee which are divisive,” and protecting FOIA rights “is not one of them.”

The other sponsor of this bill was Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who said, “No generation can afford to take these protections for granted, because they can quickly and easily be taken away. And once gone, they are difficult to get back.”

These senators’ statements are evidence that the government is headed in the right direction. This also shows that both Republicans and Democrats want a more open government and the majority of the American people want this too.

A poll conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs for last year’s Sunshine Week says that 70 percent of the people polled were “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned” about government secrecy.

In the same poll, 52 percent said there is very little access to government records.

This poll gives further evidence that the American people want the government to be more open and I agree with these sentiments.

Andy Alexander, chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee, said last year he was pleased with the government’s efforts to be more open, which Sunshine Week catalyzed last year. This year’s Sunshine Week activities seem to have fostered further progress towards a more open government.

“One of the reasons that we initiated Sunshine Week was to prompt a public discussion on the importance of Freedom of Information,” said Alexander last year.” “The fact that there’s actually a hearing on the subject after decades of congressional silence is a heartening step.”

In the past it has been hard for journalists to get public access. When the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened and the government pretty much kept a lot of public documents closed because they said it was a national security risk.

I think it’s OK to hold some records and documents back if it may cause a national security risk, but I also think that there are a lot public records that aren’t a national security risk and they should be released to the public.

It will, however, take a couple of years to create change.

This is a great move for the U.S. because it can help create more trust of the government if they become more open to the public.

I think Sunshine Week and the activities surrounding it are worthwhile endeavors to keep awareness of open government and public access.

This is something to help journalists and others in the future to gain access to public records.

Sunshine Week is almost over, but it has been shown to be an effective week where there is evidence of progress for journalists and the public all over the country in regard to the availability of government documents.

Send comments to Alan at [email protected].