WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Sunshine is the Best Disinfectant

Mar 15, 2016

This is Sunshine Week, which is a celebration of access to public information. The first Sunshine Week was held in 2005.  The Associated Press Media Editors said it takes place in mid-March to coincide with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, who was a key advocate of the Bill of Rights.

Shop Talk panelist Jonathan Ahl said it is still sometimes a struggle to get information from the government.  But he said American journalists enjoy greater access than reporters working in other countries.  Ahl said we should celebrate the access we enjoy and keep fighting for how much more we need to get.

Ahl also emphasized that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws are not just for journalists but are for the benefit of all citizens.  And panelist Rich Egger pointed out that studies have shown FOIA is generally used more often by citizens than by reporters.

Egger also said journalists still struggle with institutions.  The Missouri Senate voted early this year to relocate reporters from a table near the Senate dais to a visitors’ gallery overlooking the chamber.  And local reporters last fall clashed with the Western Illinois University administration in an attempt to get information about an altercation between a student and a teacher.

Panelist Jasmine Crighton said the dispute with WIU was a good learning experience for students. And she believes Sunshine Week also provides a good opportunity to teach about FOIA.

Crighton said FOIA exists because of public bodies that try to withhold information. She said journalists should always strive to get that information and keep the public informed.