Sunshine laws are one of the most important parts of being a journalist, yet few new journalists know much about them. It is something that classes usually seem to overlook when teaching students.
Sunshine laws are considered to be any and all laws ensuring openness and transparency in government operations, caused from the “Freedom of Information Act.” The act, signed into law in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the U.S. government, according to Wikipedia.com.
Without this act, many of the news stories we take for granted today would not be possible. This act allows journalists to look at almost any documents in order to report the news to the public.
Today, people want to know as much information as possible and don’t like when the government holds things from them, and the government knows this. Because of that, they are more open to sharing information and being available to the public. In the recent race for governor in North Carolina, one of the major points both Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue and Mayor Pat McCroy made was that they would be more open than current governor Mike Easley.
Oddly though, classes that teach about journalism and prepare our future journalists don’t seem to focus very much on these laws. It is understandable, as the best way to prepare for such a future is to write as much as possible until you’re arms can’t possibly write anymore. But Elon University is different from all other communications schools in North Carolina in that they are the only members of North Carolina’s Sunshine Center.
The Sunshine Center is the home of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition. According to their website (www.ncopengov.org), the mission of the coalition is to unite “organizations interested in ensuring and enhancing the public’s access to government activity, records and meetings” and to “educate people about their rights and support their efforts to gain access; advocate the principles and benefits of open government; and initiate or assist in legal proceedings when necessary.”
The only other school in North Carolina that is recognized as a member is UNC-Chapel Hill and its famous journalism program, though the center seems to work more closely to Elon.
It is exactly what future journalists of the world need to know about and go visit. It will teach them all that they would ever need to know about the sunshine laws and how to use them. The Sunshine Center is slowly but surely making itself known throughout the state. It calls 13 newspapers 5 television stations members, including some of the biggest papers and stations in North Carolina, including The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer, WBTV in Charlotte, and WNCN-TV NBC17 and WRAL-TV in Raleigh.
If you don’t already know about the Sunshine Center, you will very soon.
For more information on the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, visit http://www.ncopengov.org.