This week, newspapers and other media outlets across the county are commemorating Sunshine Week.
It has nothing to do with getting a tan or spring break.
Instead, Sunshine Week is what www.sunshineweek.org calls a "national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information."
The movement has its origin in Florida, when the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors began Sunshine Sunday in 2002 in response to efforts by some state legislators to create new exemptions to the state’s open records law.
It’s grown from there. And though journalists play a leading role in Sunshine Week, those involved include civic groups, schools, libraries and other organizations. What’s more, this is a nonpartisan effort to remind the public about its right to know what its government is doing.
As part of Sunshine Week, a national opinion poll of 1,008 adults found that people are more likely to distrust the federal government than they are their state or local government.
Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed said the U.S. government is either "somewhat secretive" or "very secretive." In contrast, 60 percent of those who responded said their local government was either "very open" or "somewhat open," and 53 percent held a similarly favorable opinion of their state government.
Fortunately, Georgia’s Sunshine Laws are among the strongest in the nation. Unfortunately, there have been attempts to weaken them in recent years. One of those attempts, HB 283 is currently in the house and would require that all requests for public records be made in writing with a few exemptions, such as meeting agendas and minutes.
Though the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Mark Hatfield (R-Waycross), has said it will protect public officials from prosecution if they unintentionally violate a sunshine law, it seems to us one more way of trying to send the message that public records belong to the government and not the public.
And that's the wrong message, period. What's more, it's important to note one thing. When a government body elects to try and keep a newspaper, radio station or TV news crew out of a meeting or from getting information, they're not shutting out the media.
They're shutting you out.
Note: For more information about Sunshine Week, go to www.sunshineweek.org. For more information on Georgia's Sunshine Laws, go to the Georgia's First Amendment Foundation at www.gfaf.org. In addition, the Georgia Press Association provides a guide to state laws on open meetings and open records at www.gapress.org/Sunshine.html.The Bryan County News
March 14, 2007