Let the Sunshine in


By Susy Schultz 

Sunshine is not just an age-old disinfectant for what ails your home after a long winter — something all of us Chicagoans can relate to after living through the winter of the perpetual polar vortex.

I mean, didn’t you fling open the windows these past few 40- and 50-degree days to get a bit of clean air and sunshine?

And it is no different when it comes to airing out government. Sunshine is the prescription.
That’s why journalists, nonprofits, civic leaders, schools, libraries and anyone who cares about the public’s right to know should be celebrating the upcoming Sunshine Week March 16-22. We should be celebrating that we live in a country where we have the Freedom of Information Act — both at the federal and the state levels. It’s often just referred to as FOIAs.

Why is it important? Information is the bedrock to a free and open society.

The FOIAs are often referred to as a journalists most powerful tool. In my years as an investigative editor and reporter, it’s allowed my teams to figure out the salaries of a crooked superintendent, the lack of money being spent on preventing children from getting asthma and lead poisoning and the horrendous mismanagement by a local law enforcement agency of a double-homicide.

Yet, I think, it is better put to refer to the FOIAs as a democracy’s greatest tool.

I love this explanation written by Christian Trejbal, the Open Government chair for the Association of Opinion Journalists. He wrote:

“It was, perhaps, no coincidence that a century of “sunlight” was born during the winter holidays, when celebrants burn Yule logs, place stars atop trees and light candles to hold back the darkness during these longest nights.

“On Dec. 20, 1913, Harper’s Weekly published “What Publicity Can Do” by Louis Brandeis. In it, he painted an image of transparency that still captures the imagination. “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman,” he wrote.

“Brandeis was concerned about a worrisome concentration of wealth and power in the hands of his era’s banks and industries. Parallels to the last few years require no elaboration.

“Americans soon realized that his idea of sunlight could be applied more broadly. Government also functions best under public scrutiny. The chummy club of good ol’ boys who met behind closed doors and emerged only with conclusions would soon fade from the norm. Transparency and accountability became the new paradigm for government.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

For those of you looking for tips and clues about how to file and actually get information in Illinois, the Chicago Headline Club is holding a free seminar this Friday at Loyola University’s School of Communications, 51 E. Pearson St. Our amazing community and ethnic media coordinator, Steve Franklin, is helping put together this program and it’s filled with great information about the law as well as very practical, hands-on workshops. So, sign up today. And help keep government in the sunlight.     https://www.eventbrite.com/e/foia-fest-2014-tickets-10762203039



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