Readers' Representative Journal

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Sunshine Week

March 18, 2008 |  6:00 am

The American public increasingly finds its federal government secretive, according to a study conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University. In 2006, 62% of the adults surveyed believed the federal government was very or somewhat secretive; in 2008, the figure has gone up to 74%.

That means more people than ever should be interested in Sunshine Week, March 16-22. The concept behind the name and the group is the idea that, as the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis put it, "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” -- that a bright light shed on government and on others who hold power ultimately is what keeps a democracy clean and healthy.

Perhaps you're among the 82% of those surveyed who, the study found, want access to more information about whom lawmakers meet with each day. Or maybe you are among the quarter of adults who believe the federal government has opened your mail or monitored your telephone conversations without a federal warrant.

The survey, which was commissioned by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, also finds that 92% of Americans say that "open government is important to them in assessing candidates for state offices such as governor or attorney general."

Journalists are behind Sunshine Week, a weeklong effort to get citizens thinking and talking about their year-round right to know what the government is doing, and why.

A number of other U.S. organizations, too, are dedicated to matters of open government and freedom of information. A permanent feature of the readers' representative journal (see right rail) is a link that lists just a few of those efforts. Some are run by journalists; others are coordinated by citizens who value freedom of information.

In the spirit of Sunshine Week, and your right to know, take some time to read up on our rights and who's working to keep them.

Below is the list that is permanently posted on the readers' representative journal under the heading "1st Amendment":

Groups that work to protect the 1st Amendment and keep the public informed. Descriptions are as provided by the groups.

ASNE: The American Society of Newspaper Editors is a membership organization for editors and others who serve the editorial needs of daily newspapers. (This site includes links to other newspapers’ ethics guidelines as well.)

Californians Aware: The Center for Public Forum Rights. Supporting and defending open government, an inquiring press, and a citizenry free to exchange facts and opinions.

California First Amendment Coalition: Protecting and defending the public’s right to know.

Coalition of Journalists for Open Government: A “window on open government and freedom of information.” The group’s preamble: “Information empowers and energizes a democracy. The free flow of information serves to keep the process of government honest and robust. To ensure and maintain that integrity and vitality, the public’s need to know must be recognized and the individual’s right to know must be held paramount.”

Committee of Concerned Journalists: The group has created a national conversation among journalists about principles.

First Amendment Center:
Works to preserve and protect 1st Amendment freedoms through information and education. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, and the rights to assemble and to petition the government.

Freedom Forum:  A nonpartisan, international foundation advocating free press and speech rights for all people.

Project for Excellence in Journalism: The State of the News Media: An annual report on American journalism.

Sunlight Foundation: “To use the transformative power of the Internet and new information technology to enable citizens to learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing, and thus help reduce corruption, ensure greater transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy.”
(includes a page for “'insanely useful Web sites' for government transparency.”)

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: A nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free legal assistance to journalists. The Reporters Committee also has emerged as a major national and international resource in free speech issues, disseminating information in a variety of forms.