A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

SPJ Sunshine Network to identify FOI problems, candidate positions for 2008

By Quill

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Sunshine Network will identify key open-government issues at the local and state levels and help journalists document political candidates’ views toward freedom of information before the 2008 elections.

Volunteers will identify key problems in their states’ freedom of information laws, develop three to five questions to be posed to state and local political candidates, and then encourage journalists and others to get candidates’ responses on the record.

The effort is in conjunction with the national Sunshine Campaign, coordinated by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Already, the Sunshine Campaign has begun compiling a database to chronicle federal candidates’ positions on freedom of information. Read about it at www.sunshineweek.org.

The ASNE Sunshine Campaign is collecting quotes and video documenting U.S. congressional and presidential candidates’ positions on freedom of information. The responses will be posted online as the election season heats up. Also, the Sunshine Campaign has posted online key questions that journalists can start asking candidates.

The Society of Professional Journalists, in conjunction with the National Freedom of Information Coalition, will extend that effort to the state level, aided by each state’s SPJ Sunshine chairman, said SPJ FOI Committee Chairman David Cuillier.

For years, SPJ’s Sunshine Network has monitored freedom of information at the state level. Problems and stories of interest to journalists and open-government proponents are posted at the organization’s “FOI FYI” blog.

Also, efforts by Sunshine chairmen and other SPJ leaders to ferret out secrecy and educate journalists and the public have yielded results, including:

• Providing journalists a state-by-state breakdown of access to prisons.

• Outing “Senator Secrecy,” who attempted to secretly stop the Open Government Act this year. This was possible with the help of Charles Davis, FOI Committee member, who wrote a column about the issue that was picked up by more than 200 newspapers.

• Speaking out against efforts to make city e-mails secret, restrict filming and photography on federal lands and restrict basic cow directory information.