Friday, March 13, 2015

Celebrate Sunshine Week March 15-21; fight governments trying to deny freedom of information

Sunshine Week, from March 15-21, is an important time for newspapers to promote open government and freedom of information. In several states, politicians and local governments trying to restrict access to records are threatening those rights, Michael Felberbaum reports for The Associated Press. "The public’s right to see government records is coming at an ever-increasing price, as authorities set fees and hourly charges that often prevent information from flowing."

"In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback’s office told The Wichita Eagle that it would have to pay $1,235 to obtain records of email and phone conversations between his office and a former chief of staff who is now a prominent statehouse lobbyist," Felberbaum writes. "Mississippi law allows the state to charge hourly for research, redaction and labor, including $15 an hour simply to have a state employee watch a reporter or private citizen review documents. The Associated Press dropped a records request after Oregon State Police demanded $4,000 for 25 hours of staff time to prepare, review and redact materials related to the investigation of the director of a boxing and martial arts regulatory commission."

"Whether roadblocks are created by authorities to discourage those seeking information or simply a byproduct of bureaucracy and tighter budgets, greater costs to fulfill freedom of information requests ultimately can interfere with the public’s right to know," Felberbaum writes. "Such costs are a growing threat to expanding openness at all levels of government, a cornerstone of Sunshine Week."

That's why journalists, even those from the smallest newspapers in the smallest towns, need to promote Sunshine Week and open government and freedom of information. The Sunshine Week website includes Felberbaum's story, as well as other materials available for news media. To view materials, click here.

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