AP Launches ‘Sunshine Week’ Web Site, Moves Stories

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(AP) The Associated Press has posted a new section on its
corporate Internet site that is dedicated to raising public awareness of its efforts to press for government access. The launch of the “AP and Freedom of Information” Web pages coincides with the first national “Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know” initiative, a weeklong media coalition project scheduled to officially get under way March 13.

AP has a long history of involvement in FOI issues and actions, handling scores of actions each year on behalf of the news industry to assure that journalists have access to events, proceedings and information. AP President and CEO Tom Curley has made “open government” a signature initiative of his public addresses since he assumed leadership of the AP in June 2003.

Next week, at the Web site, “AP and Freedom of Information,” the AP will feature stories a variety of Sunshine Week-related material, including a package of FOI-related news stories focusing on government access.

The site, produced by AP’s Corporate Communications department, includes audio and video clips, sections for journalists and for the public, and a compilation of resources on the Web designed to further understanding
of the FOI process. It can be accessed at http://www.ap.org/FOI/public.html.

Curley announced Thursday that the AP has joined with the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Society of Professional Journalists, Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, National Newspaper Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Radio-Television News
Directors Association, and the Newspaper Association of America to form a coalition called “The Sunshine in Government Initiative.” The groups seek to combat what they see as increased government secrecy since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“National security depends on public trust,” Curley said. “The trend toward secrecy is the greatest threat to democracy. We must be vigilant at explaining and fighting for accountable government in every jurisdiction.”

The coalition will lobby for legislation and seek to educate the public about First Amendment issues. For example, a bill called the OPEN Government Act of 2005 seeks to speed release of information sought in Freedom of Information Act requests has been endorsed by the Sunshine
Initiative. On March 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, technology, and homeland security plans a hearing on the bill.

AP’s “Sunshine Week” stories, which will be available for newspaper publication in the opening days of “Sunshine Week,” have moved in advance on AP’s national and state wires, accompanied by photos and graphics. They include:

For release Sunday, March 13:

? Robert Tanner’s overview story examining why the Freedom of Information Act matters to the public, because non-journalists use it the most, and how the government has tightened its controls on the release of information since Sept. 11.

? AP CEO Curley’s Q&A on access issues.

? Joe Ruff’s story on how the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act has altered social patterns in a small Nebraska town.

For release Monday, March 14:

? Martha Mendoza’s overview story reviewing the release of federal government records since 1998 and detailing ways in which federal, state and local governments are curtailing the availibility of documents.

? Mendoza’s story on the oldest pending FOIA request (it turns 24 this year)

? A glance at a sampling of the 50-plus countries that have FOIA laws.

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