Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Sunshine Week - March 13-19, 2005

Sunshine Week is not a week of patriotic parades, paid holidays, and shopping mall sales. In fact, there are very likely some government officials who hope that Sunshine Week will not catch on. Well, they're already about three years too late.

Sunshine Week began as Sunshine Sunday in 2002 with an effort by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors (FSNE) to educate their readers about the importance of public access to government. After three years of Sunshine Sundays, the FSNE concluded that its efforts led to the repeal of nearly 300 exemptions to Florida's open government laws. It wasn't news media pressure, it was the pressure generated by an awakened and media-educated Florida citizenry applying the heat to elected and appointed government officials that created change.

Three years later, the American Society of Newspaper Editors has transformed Sunshine Sunday into a week-long nationwide educational effort known as Sunshine Week.

It would be a mistake to think that Sunshine Week is about newspapers or the news media generally. Sunshine Week is their effort to remind "We, the People" of our right to access government information. The free press guaranteed by the First Amendment to our Constitution is one tool, a big one, but still only a tool. Even the best tool can't build a house if it isn't picked up and used.

There are some indications that we may be allowing our tool, a free and aggressive press, to rust. In January 2005, the Knight Foundation released the results of the Future of the First Amendment research project. Among the project's many findings (excerpted from the study):

  1. High school students tend to express little appreciation for the First Amendment. Nearly three-fourths say either they don't know how they feel about it or they take it for granted.
  2. Students are less likely than adults to think that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions or newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.
  3. Students lack knowledge and understanding about key aspects of the First Amendment. Seventy-five percent incorrectly think that flag burning is illegal. Nearly half erroneously believe the government can restrict indecent material on the Internet.
  4. Students who do not participate in any media-related activities are less likely to think that people should be allowed to burn or deface the American flag. Students who have taken more media and/or First Amendment classes are more likely to agree that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions.

How much do you know about the First Amendment relating to free speech and free press? Here's a test.

The Sunday, March 13, 2005, Seattle Post-Intelligencer has an article entitled AP CEO Tom Curley, on Sunshine Week. The article is in a question-and-answer format explaining why Sunshine Week is for "We, the People" and not about "Them, the Press".

Is there cause for concern about the future of first amendment guarantees? Yes. As the Sunday, March 13, 2005, New York Times points out in its article Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged TV News, more and more local and regional television news outlets are picking up government-supplied "news" articles, typically called video news releases, and pushing them as straight news without attribution. In some instances, television news edited the government's own attribution out of the pieces to make the result resemble even more closely locally produced news. This lengthy article is a must-read, because it reveals not only the efforts of government agencies to propagandize (the GAO's term) those who get their news from television, it also divulges the reasons why television stations in the US are going along with this program. Contrary to what the New York Times headline suggests, this effort did not begin with President Bush.

It is a very short step from disseminating propaganda to disseminating disinformation. News media and citizens that cannot recognize propaganda will not be able to recognize disinformation. An excellent introduction to disinformation or peacetime deception operations can be found in the book "The Deception Game: Czechoslovak Intelligence in Soviet Political Warfare" by Ladislav Bittman, 1972, Syracuse University Research Corp. Bittman was a career disinformation officer with the Czech intelligence service from 1954 to 1968 when he defected to the US. The Czech intelligence service fronted disinformation operations for the former Soviet Union's intelligence services, the KGB and GRU. Bittman is considered to be the top authority on disinformation in the US.

Sunshine Week is an opportunity for us to educate ourselves and reassert our right to have access to the accurate and complete information from our government. Those of us who live in Idaho might want to look more closely at the repugnant efforts of our primarily Republican legislators in Boise to close committee meetings. The Sunshine Week link cited earlier in this post contains links to tools we all can use.


Blogger stebbijo said...

Whitecaps -- you need to get a life! You have way too much technical information in your head!

Great information!

the Angry Commentator

12:59 PM, March 14, 2005  

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