Sunshine Week 3/15/09 -3/21/09

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ld2r4muy3w&feature=player_embedded]What is Sunshine Week?

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

Sunshine Week is led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and is funded primarily by a challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami.

Though spearheaded by journalists, Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why. Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.

Sunshine Week is a non-partisan initiative whose supporters are conservative, liberal and everything in between.

When is the next Sunshine Week?

March 15-21, 2009 

How did Sunshine Week begin?

Like many families, Sunshine Week’s grandfather lives in Florida.

The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors launched Sunshine Sunday in 2002 in response to efforts by some Florida legislators to create scores of new exemptions to the state’s public records law. FSNE estimates that some 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.

Several states followed Florida’s lead, and in June 2003, ASNE hosted a Freedom of Information Summit in Washington where the seeds for Sunshine Week were planted. (For more about the summit and the first Sunshine Week, read online the article “Sunshine Sunday: Making the Case for Open Access” in the January-February 2005 issue of The American Editor.)

With an inaugural grant from Knight Foundation, the ASNE FOI Committee took up the challenge and launched Sunshine Week in March 2005. It continues to be celebrated each year in mid-March, coinciding with National FOI Day and James Madison’s birthday on March 16.

How can I participate?

Anyone can be a part of Sunshine Week. In the first two national Sunshine Weeks, not only journalists, but also students, teachers, private citizens, librarians, civic leaders, public officials, bloggers, non-profit groups were involved.

The only requirement is that you do something to engage in a discussion about the importance of open government. It could be a large public forum or a classroom discussion, an article or series of articles about access to important information, or an editorial. The extent to which you participate is up to you.

Participation is not about how much you do; it’s about doing it.

To get involved with Sunshine Week, contact the state or regional coordinators for your area or e-mail Sunshine Week coordinator Debra Gersh Hernandez at dghernandez@asne.org.

What do people do during Sunshine Week?

The first two national Sunshine Weeks saw fantastic creativity and enthusiasm from participants. There were special sections devoted to open government, weeklong series, profiles of local Freedom of Information heroes, public forums, classroom activities, online packages, essay contests-and even a song.

Examples of the myriad ways journalists, students, lawmakers and public groups marked Sunshine Week in 2005 and 2006 are collected in Bright Ideas for Sunshine Week 2007″ and Bright Ideas for Sunshine Week 2006″.

Is Sunshine Week making a difference?

The coverage, commentaries and activities promoting open government during Sunshine Week have led to some tangible, meaningful changes to people’s lives and the laws that govern them.

The Sunshine Week initiative is increasing public awareness, it’s coming up more often in policy conversations, and the efforts of participants are being cited as real forces for moving the public away from simply accepting excessive and unwarranted government secrecy.

People also are playing more of a role in the actions that affect their communities. They now are learning what kinds of information they have a right to see, where to get it, how to get it and what to do if someone tries to keep if from them.

You can find examples of Sunshine Week success stories in the Sunshine Illuminates gallery.

Read More About Sunshine Week

The success of the first national Sunshine Week has opened a dialogue for discussion of the importance of open government to the public that is expected to grow, according to a report by Sharon Moshavi in the Spring 2005 News @ Knight newsletter from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami.

The genesis of Sunshine Week and its goals are reported by Cox Newspapers Washington Bureau Chief Andy Alexander, chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors FOI Committee, in “Sunshine Sunday: Making the Case for Open Access,” The American Editor, January-February 2005.

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