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Sunshine Week in TN Takes Peek Behind Government Secrecy Curtains

March 18, 2008

Clarksville, TN – Tennesseans are sweeping aside government secrecy curtains during "Sunshine Week." It's a time when news reporters and ordinary citizens are encouraged to ask for details on budgets, campaign financing, even Minutes of local council meetings. Access to all of that information is a right guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act.

Bob Priddy with the Radio-Television News Directors Association says a new poll shows most Americans think local and federal government secrecy is on the rise, especially over the past five years.

"There are constant threats made at the local level, at the state level, and for that matter, at the federal level, too, to erode the rights that we have under various freedom of information laws."

Priddy says a federal law making it easier for Tennesseans to access government details through the Freedom of Information Act recently has been stymied. He blames the Bush administration, which has tried to undo the law by withholding funding needed to put it into place.

"While the signing of the bill was good news, the actual follow-up that implements that bill has not been handled very well. We watch very closely these games that are played at our government at the highest levels, or even at lower levels."

Government secrets often are kept in the name of national security, as proprietary business information or for privacy protection. Priddy says those reasons can be valid, but history shows they often are abused by those in power.

Deborah Smith/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - TN