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SPJ Sunshine Network to identify FOI problems, candidate positions for 2008
Clint Brewer, President. (615) 301-9229
Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 927-8000, ext. 211
INDIANAPOLIS -- 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.
“It is crucial that citizens know candidate positions on open, transparent government,” said Clint Brewer, SPJ National President. “The American people deserve to know whether politicians asking for public trust in each state believe government should be accountable.”
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.
The ASNE Sunshine Campaign is collecting quotes and video documenting U.S. congressional and presidential candidate 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 Chair, said SPJ FOI Committee Chairman David Cuillier.
“Journalists know their own states better than anyone else, so it’s important the issues are generated at the grassroots level,” Cuillier said. “We hope this will help the public understand the most pressing issues in their state regarding access to public records and meetings, and how the candidates stand.
“Better we all know how candidates stand on freedom of information before they are elected, not after,” Cuillier said.
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 Chairs 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 secret city e-mails, restrict filming and photography on federal lands, and restrict basic cow directory information.
For information about getting involved in the Sunshine Network, contact SPJ FOI Committee Chairman David Cuillier at (520) 626-9694 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. See more information about SPJ’s work on FOI issues at SPJ.org.
The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ and SDX, please visit http://www.spj.org.