Today, March 16, is Freedom of Information Day. This day is an annual event held during Sunshine Week and celebrates the birthday of President James Madison.
Madison is known as the “Father of the Constitution” and as the foremost advocate for openness in government. He is also hailed as being instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and as the key champion and author of the United States Bill of Rights.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Freedom of information is an extension of freedom of speech, a fundamental human right that is widely accepted as freedom of expression in any medium (written or spoken) and through the arts. Your right to freedom of speech not only applies to the content, but also the means of expression.
Information is power and all citizens have the right to information. In order to have a free and effective democracy, access to information is fundamentally important to a citizen’s ability to participate in decision-making and to hold our public servants accountable.
Foremost among those that take full advantage of the freedom of information laws are members of the media. I’m sure you’ve seen many times when reading a big news investigative story that many of the details of the story are “according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.”
Freedom of Information Day is a yearly reminder of the importance of transparency in the American government and the public’s right to information.
In Arizona, we have a couple great resources to learn more about freedom of information including the Society for Professional Journalists Freedom of Information Committee and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona.