Journalism organizations, schools and libraries plan a week-long
campaign to push harder for access to government.
Beginning March 13, news outlets will run stories, editorials and
cartoons urging greater access to government information. The effort
has been dubbed "Sunshine Week."
"From city hall to Congress, and from police chiefs’ offices
to the attorney general’s office, the trend toward secrecy
is unmistakable," said Tom Curley, president and CEO of The
Associated Press, the world ’s largest newsgathering organization.
"The most important thing from our standpoint, of course,
is to connect what we do to the public interest, and to line up
with the people and remind them how important it is that they get
access to what their elected representatives are doing. "
The project, joined by more than 50 news outlets, journalism groups,
universities and the American Library Association, was inspired
by a campaign in Florida during which newspapers across the state
have run editorials, op-ed columns, cartoons and stories about the
importance of government openness.
In October 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft changed federal
FOI policy by requiring agencies to carefully consider national
security, effective law enforcement and personal privacy before
Ashcroft cited security concerns in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks
as the reason for the changes to open government laws.
Andy Alexander, chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom
of Information Committee, said Ashcroft’s order turned "the
basic concept of open government on its head. "
"It used to be the presumption was that information would
be public unless the government could show a compelling reason that
it should remain secret," Alexander said. "And Attorney
General Ashcroft’s directive basically turned that upside down
and put the onus on citizens to show that they needed the information. "
The Justice Department denies that Ashcroft’s order was aimed
at limiting the public’s access to information. "Rather,
it reflects a change in FOIA policy that is largely a matter of
emphasis and tone. "
The American Society of Newspaper Editors is leading the "sunshine
week" effort. ASNE and the Radio-Television News Directors
Association were awarded grants from the John S. and James L. Knight
Foundation to launch the effort.
-- Information provided by the AP