Our View: Sunshine allows public scrutiny

Mar. 13, 2013 @ 01:06 AM

Although Ol’ Sol was late making its appearance in this area Tuesday, it still was national Sunshine Week and a time when newspapers everywhere spotlight the value of openness in our governments and freedom of information at all levels.
And while a lot is made about newspapers and other media gaining access to information on the inner workings of our governments, the heart of what Sunshine Week seeks to protect can’t be repeated too many times. Sunshine Week really is not about media accessing information about government, it is about the public’s right to access information about government.
Sunshine Week traces its roots to 2002 when the Florida Society of Newspapers held a “Sunshine Sunday” to protest efforts by the state legislature to make more public documents exempt from the state’s open meetings law. In 2005, the American Society of News Editors promoted the observance nationwide. Funding for that initiative was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
One can say much progress and numerous victories have been achieved since 2002 and 2005, but still today we see plenty examples of the need for the public, along with the media, to continue encouraging compliance with the spirit of Sunshine Week and state laws on open government.
For examples, ironically just this week, the Oklahoma state Senate closed its doors and cleared the gallery of spectators and representatives of the media in order to discuss “Senate decorum” in a secret session. “Maybe it shows they are clueless that Sunshine Week even exists,” commented Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University.
At the White House, President Obama and White House officials recognized Sunshine Week and pointed out that the government overall had processed 665,924 Freedom of Information Action requests in 2012, a 5.5 percent increase over 2011. However, an analysis by The Associated Press also revealed that the government had used national security as a reason to censor FOIA requests by the public more often than at any time since President Obama has been in office.
And recently here in North Carolina, new Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has on at least two occasions signed important and controversial legislation during ceremonies in which the media — as representatives of the public — were not invited to witness.
Surely, there’s room for all levels of our governments to let more sunshine in.