Transparency in government a public right, not a privilege

Sunshine Week

Peeling back the layers of government oversights, shining a spotlight on scandals and criminal debauchery, journalists around the world continue to deliver the only message anyone should really desire: Truth.

This is the 13th annual Sunshine Week, a national initiative spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy.

Everyone has an obligation and a duty to act as an informed citizen. And at the raw root center of Sunshine Week is freedom; the freedom to know — and that, along with participation, is the foundation of democracy.

Government officials and politicians can be corrupt. They might not start out with anything but the best intentions. But somewhere down the road, they might take a turn toward something worse.

Without the press or the public’s access to certain documents, many would never know of the crimes committed, and when secrecy runs amok, the concept of an informed citizenry will not survive.

Access to public information is a permitted right, and one available to us all. Though still under some mandated restrictions, today’s records regulations provide reasonable access to a sizable share of materials and resources. There’s still the occasional fight and friction between those seeking freer access and those who want it more tightly controlled, but anyone can submit a Freedom of Information Act request to their local government to view a wide variety of documentation.

When government oversight fails, or if state regulations unfairly or unintentionally oppress certain groups of people, the press has brought those stories to light. But we don’t always do it alone.

Residents in our communities have made great efforts to follow up with elected leaders, attend public meetings and occasionally, yes, rouse the press like a sly fox would a lazy hen. This week will recognize those fine people as well for their contributions to our principal cause of greater transparency and widespread awareness.

Sunshine Week is about searching, very often through the darkness, for the truth. And that search can be demanding. Journalists sometimes stumble through the lies and “fake news” and false allegations, like trudging through an overgrown swamp.

What would a country be like if its leaders could lie, willingly and unchecked, to its people? If the public could be kept in the dark, those in power might prefer to keep that relationship as status quo.

By restricting your access to public materials — or even going as far as to restrict access to government meetings, where the deals are made and laws to govern you crafted — the powerful will look to solidify their positions.

Sunshine Week is about more than the ability to read public records. It’s a fight against secrecy and oppression, and an important step toward a greater country and a stronger democracy, one that’s built on truth.