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Sunshine Week celebrates access to government
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 11:00 AM
News organizations and citizens across America this week are observing Sunshine Week to celebrate open government and freedom of information.
Federal legislation mandating freedom of government-held information - through the Freedom of Information Act - was signed into law in 1966 by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The act defines which government and agency records are subject to disclosure, the procedures for requesting that information and insures that the costs associated with requesting that information must be fair.
Without sunshine laws, journalists could face great hurdles in reporting the work and decisions of federal, state and local government. And citizens might have a difficult time obtaining records to which they should be entitled.
Freedom of Information insures that much of what government does - especially the all-important decision-making and budget-making - must be open for review and conducted in an atmosphere of disclosure rather than secrecy.
Although journalists are usually left to champion sunshine laws, the laws extend to more than just the working press. Freedom of Information is for everyone and the guarantees it extends to journalists are no more important than those granted to every American.
It is encouraging that more private citizens are becoming familiar with their right to information and know how to obtain that information.
Freedom of Information insures that you do not have to be someone connected or special to have access to government.
This year it was gratifying that the Hoosier State Press Association awarded Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller with the Frank O'Bannon Sunshine Award for his advocacy of open government. Zoeller attended many seminars around the state - including Madison - to educate public officials and citizens about the law.
While journalists are the first to take up the fight against erosions in access, it's a fight we should wage together.
Keeping government records and meetings open makes agencies more accountable for their actions. That promotes better confidence in government, invites citizen to participate in the process and ultimately leads to better public policy.
Those are very good reasons for journalists, citizens and lawmakers to vigorously support sunshine laws.
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