Sunshine Week, established by the American Society of News Editors in 2005, is celebrated annually nationwide in mid-March. This year, it runs today through Saturday. It was created to encourage us to consider how important transparency in government is to democracy.
Transparency and democracy go hand in hand.
How important is it to you to know about any and all information that pertains to your local, state and national governments?
We believe it’s essential — and that the public has an absolute right — to observe and participate in the business of government and to inspect the records of said business. Not a privilege, a right.
It’s everyone’s job, news organizations and everyday people, to find out what’s going on in our communities, and it’s up to us to hold public officials accountable. It’s also our job, here at the newspaper in particular, to call them out when they aren’t.
Our reporters work diligently day after day to not only get the facts but to tell the story in its entirety. Sometimes governments attempt to withhold information for various reasons, including that the public would be better off not knowing.
It’s our job to do the necessary legwork to not only inform the public, but to be record keepers of public information for generations to come.
Sunshine Week helps to recognize how important access to public information is to developing news stories and how the Freedom of Information Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in July of 1966, guarantees the public’s right to information held by the government.
If you’re unfamiliar with the landmark bill, just know that it gives all of us full access to government documents and, for journalists, an unprecedented proverbial green light to uncover the good, the bad and the ugly.
In Texas, we also have the Texas Public Information Act, which provides the same guarantees.
Unfortunately, we’re still fighting a battle against government secrecy, and examples of government subdivisions violating the letter or the spirit of open government laws are not hard to find.
Although journalists and the news organizations employing them tend to be the first to object when the government attempts to violate public information laws, they should not be the last.
It’ll be up to all of us to remain vigilant and steadfast as it relates to our right to know. Stay on your elected officials to do what’s right as it pertains to transparency in government and beyond. Being in the know shouldn’t be frowned upon.
Sunshine Week should continue to be observed and acknowledged by we the people not only during this allotted time, but each and every day.
• Angela Wilson