National Sunshine Week kicks off March 13

Kacey Deamer | Freedom of Information | Feature | February 11, 2011

About one month from now, journalists, civic groups, nonprofits, citizens and other interested parties from across the U.S. will work to increase government transparency during Sunshine Week. The initiative's website, SunshineWeek.org, defines Sunshine Week as "a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information." The initiative "is about the public's right to know what its government is doing, and why."

Since its beginning in 2005, Sunshine Week has helped raise public awareness of open government issues and has encouraged citizens to become more involved. "The coverage, commentaries and activities promoting open government during Sunshine Week have led to tangible, meaningful changes to people's lives and the laws that govern them," the website noted.

Some events have already been scheduled for this year's celebration from March 13-19. Sunshine Week organizers are again holding the "Local Heroes Contest," in which citizens are asked to nominate "unsung heroes in the battle for freedom of information" as American Society of News Editors President Marty Kaiser said in a statement for the contest's inaugural year.

The annual National Freedom of Information Day Conference on March 16 will be held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The conference, hosted each year by the First Amendment Center, "brings together open records advocates, government officials, judges, lawyers, librarians, journalists, educators and others to discuss timely issues related to transparency in government and public access to official records," the Sunshine Week website calendar said. The conference agenda will include panel discussions and presentations, and the induction of one or more nominees into the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame.

OpenTheGovernment.org will show a live webcast, "The Road Forward on Open Government," on March 18. Participants will discuss the transparency promises made by the Obama administration.

After Sunshine Week, the city of Sacramento, Calif., will hold a local event during which city librarians and the area's League of Women Voters will host a "panel discussion featuring local experts" according the event's Facebook page and the Sunshine Week calendar. The event will be held Wednesday, March 23.

The national initiative was launched by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (now known as the American Society of News Editors) in March 2005. However, the concept of Sunshine Week began in 2002 in Florida. The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors launched an initiative called Sunshine Sunday “in response to efforts by some Florida legislators to create scores of new exemptions to the state’s public records law,” according to the Sunshine Week website. The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors estimated that around “300 exemptions to open government laws were defeated in the legislative sessions that followed its three Sunshine Sundays, because of the increased public and legislative awareness that resulted from the Sunshine Sunday reports and commentary.”

After several states followed in Florida's footsteps, the American Society of Newspaper Editors hosted a Freedom of Information Summit in June 2003 that planted the seeds for Sunshine Week. The decision to celebrate in mid-March was purposeful to coincide with National Freedom of Information Day and James Madison's birthday on March 16.