When it comes to open government, sunshine dims in Florida

Pamela Marsh, executive director of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation, said the trajectory of transparency and freedom of the press is in “dramatic decline.”

At a recent gathering of the Press Club of Southwest Florida, Marsh noted that the state legislature keeps adding more exemptions to Florida’s Sunshine Law. To date, there are now 1,138 exemptions to open government laws. As a consequence, public records are taking longer than ever to be processed and fees continue to rise.

Wendy Fullerton, executive editor of the Naples Daily News and Southwest Florida region editor, told attendees that the process of getting access to public records is “worse than it’s ever been.” Having spent more than 32 years as a journalist in southwest Florida, Fullerton said journalists used to flock to Florida because of how easy it was to get information under the Sunshine Law. That is no longer the case.

Tom Doerr, director of local news and content for the Fort Myers Broadcasting company, said because of the fast-paced nature of broadcast reporting, with a mission to inform the public of news as it happens in real-time, a lot of initial reporting has to rely on “managed information,” curated by a public information office whose priorities often conflict with that news outlets.  View the panel discussion by the Press Club of Southwest Florida here.