Freedom of information celebrated

Aaron Loudenslager

A week of events will be held to promote Sunshine Week, a national public discussion about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

This year’s Sunshine Week will be March 11 through 17 and is co-sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. It is funded by the Gridiron Club and the Knight Foundation.

This year’s Sunshine Week includes many events across the country. Ben Burns, director of Wayne State University’s journalism program, said there are many ways for people, including students, to get involved in Sunshine Week.

“People can get involved by writing letters to editors, writing editorials and calling the public’s attention to acts by government agencies that are prohibited under the laws.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will speak at 2 p.m. on March 12 at the U.S. Department of Justice Great Hall in Washington, D.C.

Other Sunshine Week events include the New York Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library’s Freedom of Information Day celebration at 10:30 a.m., featuring speaker Robert Weissman, president of consumer rights group Public Citizen.

Sunshine Week tries to create a discussion about the transparency of government and free access of public information to citizens.

Two major types of laws that deal with these issues are the freedom of information act (FOIA) laws and open meeting act (OMA) laws.

“Michigan FOIA attempts to make information in the possession of government ‘public record’ subject to disclosure with very limited exemptions,” said general counsel for Michigan Press Association Robin Luce Herrmann. “The intent of the Michigan Open Meetings Act is to have government operate in the open so the public can know what is going on.

“The OMA requires that all decisions take place at a meeting open to the public; and most deliberations must also take place at a meeting open to the public – the OMA provides for limited exemptions that allow closed deliberations.”

Lisa McGraw, public affairs manager for the Michigan Press Association, says FOIA and OMA laws are very important to everyday Americans.

“They [FOIA and OMA laws] provide the tools to allow everyday citizens access to information about things that impact their lives,” McGraw said.

Josh MacIvor-Andersen, assistant professor of English at NMU, also said that FOIA and OMA laws were important to American citizens.

“At the government’s best, they’re essentially us; they’re people. It’s people writ large. It’s sort of a projection of what our interests are and our needs are,” MacIvor-Andersen said. “But once you actually get there, there’s a tendency to want to shroud what you’re doing in a kind of secrecy.

“So, sunshine laws I think are the counter balance to that.”

MacIvor-Andersen said these open government and Freedom of Information Act laws were important to students, and student journalists in particular.

“I think that at its best these laws guarantee that even a student journalist could do the same kind of work that a professional journalist could do, which is a beautiful thing, which I think is appropriate,” MacIvor-Andersen said.

MacIvor-Andersen also said events like Sunshine Week are especially important in today’s age.

“Things like Sunshine Week to actually bring awareness to focus on these issues are more important now than ever I think,” MacIvor-Andersen said.