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Sunshine Week promotes the public’s right to know

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Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger. Though created by journalists, Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why.

This non-partisan, nonprofit initiative is celebrated in mid-March each year to coincide with James Madison’s birthday on March 16.

The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors launched Sunshine Sunday in 2002, in response to efforts by some Florida legislators to create new exemptions to that state’s public records law. FSNE estimates that some 300 exemptions to open government laws were defeated in the legislative sessions that followed its three Sunshine Sundays, because of the increased public and legislative awareness that resulted from the related reports and commentary.

Several states followed Florida’s lead, and in June 2003, ASNE hosted a Freedom of Information Summit in Washington, D.C., where the seeds for Sunshine Week were planted.

The American Society of News Editors launched this weeklong celebration in March 2005 with an inaugural grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has continued to support the effort.

In 2011, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press joined ASNE as a national co-coordinator of Sunshine Week.

Participants today include news media, government officials at all levels, schools and universities, libraries and archives, individuals, nonprofit and civic organizations, historians and anyone with an interest in open government.

Anyone can be part of Sunshine Week. The only requirement is to do something to engage in discussion about the importance of open government. The initiative is increasing public awareness, is more prevalent in policy conversations, and participant efforts of are being cited as real forces for moving the public away from accepting excessive and unwarranted government secrecy.

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Megan Paulson is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Outlaw Partners.

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