Sunshine Week highlights importance of open government
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The Issue: Transparency in government is an issue at the local, state and national levels.
Our View: Often, the press is the window through which the public views its government.
This is an important time in this country’s history. There’s a lot of right fighting going on in, literally, two senses of the word: First, no matter where one falls on the political spectrum, s/he thinks they are correct in their view of this country’s future, and, second, there are many who have an undeniable urge to fight for their constitutional rights. It’s unfortunate, however, that some constitutional rights seem, to many people, more important than others.
Freedom of the press is part of the First Amendment, along with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to peaceably assemble and the right to petition the government. It contains the most basic tenets of American rights and it is, in part, the job of the press to stand up against all who threaten the First Amendment.
March 12-18 is Sunshine Week. In an era when, too often, responsible reporting is being labeled as “fake news,” the purpose and integrity of the press and its relationship to open government is more important than ever. Sunshine Week is an initiative that began in 2005 to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy.
The problem is most members of the public don’t understand what information is available to them and what isn’t. That’s where good reporting comes into play. While it isn’t likely to successfully battle the federal government’s transparency issues on this page, we can certainly take a look at what happens locally, especially since we are on the cusp of the April 4 election, in which opportunity exists for several local seats to change hands.
While it’s troubling but understandable that most members of the government don’t have a good working knowledge of things like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or the Open Meetings Act (OMA), one can be assured that members of the press do. It’s even more frustrating when members of a governing body know the law but assume since most members of the public lack legal knowledge, they can act in ways that violate statute. In such cases, it is fully up to the press to expose these situations and provide the public with correct information. For most people, the press is their most direct and only link to government.
When it comes to government, local or otherwise, there should be very little to hide and when there is, notice should be taken.
Of course, some candidates for election use the issue of transparency as an election issue by pointing fingers at incumbents and lobbing accusations that the opposition is being less that transparent. This, of course, is just a ruse since they can produce no evidence of illegal conduct because the alleged activity wasn’t transparent. It’s the Chicken Little method, in which the only way to prove the sky isn’t falling is by the knowledge it hasn’t fallen yet. It’s a crafty way of stringing people along throughout election season without having to prove anything.
The good news is people who follow the month-to-month proceedings of their local governing bodies – most often through the press – know full well what their elected officials are up to. In such cases, if the press is doing its job, issues of concern – transparency or otherwise – would have been highlighted and the proper representatives questioned.
It is the press that alerts Americans to shenanigans taking place at any level of government. There is no other industry, agency or organization whose job it is to monitor government as thoroughly as the press does. A weak press is an open door to corruption.