Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunshine Sunday: It's your right to know

I was sitting at McKechnie Field this afternoon, soaking in all that is springtime here and loving it -– and the sun finally came out. Baseball, hot dogs, old friends, a sold-out crowd to see the Sox and Pirates -- wow, a perfect spring training day. And a reminder that I should blog on all that sunshine to remind you that it’s Sunshine Sunday here in Florida.

Actually, it’s Sunshine Week around the country, thanks to the leadership of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. We launched Sunshine Sunday in 2002, when some Florida legislators tried to create dozens of exceptions to this state’s exemplary open records laws. Their timing? In part, they were capitalizing on our nation’s fears of terrorism after 9-11-2001.

In the next three years alone, Sunshine Sunday efforts by Florida's newspapers, including the Bradenton Herald, and the First Amendment Foundation headed by Barbara Peterson blocked at least 300 exemptions that would have locked away information from every Florida resident.

FSNE picked the Sunday that coincided with James Madison’s birthday on March 16 -- the fourth president of the United States known as the "Father of the Constitution." Now, in large part because of the success in Florida, the American Society of Newspaper Editors expanded the effort into a national initiative to “spotlight the importance of public access to government and freedom of information.”

While journalists spearhead Sunshine Week, the list of participants has grown as the word spreads on the importance to protect our right to know: civic groups, libraries, non-profit organizations, schools, neighborhood organizations and -– yes, many, many elected public officials.

The Bradenton Herald led today’s front page with a Sunshine Sunday story by reporters Nick Azzara and Grace Agostin, who spell out how you can access information from every public entity in Manatee County. Our editorial on Page 10C and on stresses that “public records are open to everyone. They belong to you.” We also provide you every contact point to obtain those public records in Manatee County at this link.

There’s a great collection of editorials, cartoons and columns from newspapers throughout Florida at FSNE's Sunshine Sunday web site.

Here’s a succinct explanation from FSNE on why access to public records is so important:

“The public’s ability to review public records enables citizens to see how their tax money is being spent and how government decisions are made. It provides the public with another check and balance. There are countless examples where the press or the public used freedom of information laws to bring to light inefficiencies, incompetence and outright corruption.“

Learn more about the national Sunshine Week and your right to know.

And revel in our sunshine. The Pirates won, 6-3!



Anonymous said...

Terrific, helpful story by Nick Azzara and Grace Agostin. We read every word, and clipped the list.

Señor Garcia said...

Hmm. This sounds like a thinly disguised plea to save newspapers, if you ask me.
"Please, oh please, let's save these young folks from themselves and be sure they read words printed on paper."
Never mind that they go on-line daily and absorb more information than any newspaper could ever contain. There is no information in your newspaper they can't elsewhere.
And who are you to proclaim that "46 percent of adults have read a book this year" as a dismal statistic?
Do you care how many films they've watched. How many TV news magazines they've watched? How many times they've accessed the Smithsonian website online?
Face it, the concept of words printed on paper is rapidly going the way of the horse and carriage. The telegraph. Vinyl records.
All were precious in their time. But all were replaced by something better.
Embrace the internet. It is your future.