WASHINGTON: Alarmed by a trend toward secrecy at all levels of government, media organizations are coming together for a nationwide week-long effort to educate the public about freedom of information.
The effort, dubbed "Sunshine Week," will begin March 13. Print, broadcast, and online media outlets will be encouraged to address the issue of a more open government through news coverage, editorials, commentaries, and editorial cartoons.
Initiated by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), Sunshine Week expands on the concept of Sunshine Sunday, which began in Florida in 2002.
Andy Alexander, Washington bureau chief for Cox Newspapers and chairman of ASNE's freedom of information committee, said the increase in secrecy initially was attributed to national security following 9/11. In subsequent years, he said, measures by the government have gone too far.
"There's a lot of information that has been shut down at the state and local levels that has very little to do with national security," he said.
A major goal of Sunshine Week is to convey the message that freedom of information is not just an issue for journalists.
"We haven't done the best job of explaining to the public why it is in their interest to have open government," said Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association. "This is an opportunity for us... to explain it in terms that are relevant to the public."
Matthew Felling, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, said it is important for the media to make its case, given recent media criticism.
"Every interest group in America has launched a PR campaign by now," he said. "It's about time the media used itself to communicate its own needs and how that translates to the needs of citizens' access to information."