Our own increasingly secretive Kansas Legislature continues to ponder bills that would curtail the release of what is now considered public information.
The federal government broadens it powers as to what parts of our once private lives are fair game.
Unmanned Drones are being considered as a method to monitor the American populace.
It is against this backdrop that journalists from around the nation join hands this week in observance of Sunshine Week, seven days dedicated to reminding officialdom and citizens about the importance of governmental transparency.
Sunshine Week dates back to 2002 when the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors launched Sunshine Sunday in response to efforts by some Florida legislators to create scores of new exemptions to the state’s public records law (sound familiar?). It was a success as the society figured that over the next three years, Sunshine Sundays led to 300 exemptions to open government laws being defeated in the legislative sessions.
Why? The people spoke and lawmakers listened.
Several states followed Florida’s lead, and in June 2003, the American Society of News Editors hosted a Freedom of Information Summit in Washington where the seeds for Sunshine Week were planted.
With an inaugural grant from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has continued to support the effort, Sunshine Week was launched by the ASNE in March 2005. This non-partisan, non-profit initiative is celebrated in mid-March each year to coincide with James Madison’s birthday on March 16.
In 2011, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press joined ASNE as a national co-coordinator of Sunshine Week, enabling the organizations to join forces and resources to produce materials for participants and keep the website and social media sites engaged.
Participants include news media, government officials at all levels, schools and universities, libraries and archives, individuals, non-profit and civic organizations, historians and anyone with an interest in open government.
Sure, Sunshine Week was the brain child of frustrated journalists, but it is about so much more. The week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why.
It aims to not only cast light of the workings of government, it aims to enlighten and empower the public to get involved in government at all levels, and to hand them information to improve their and make their communities stronger.
Our leaders must realize that not only is it the right of their constituents to know what they are doing, it is their obligation to keep their activities above board. They should want to, if for no other reason than to eliminate the suspicion on the part of the citizenry.
Unfortunately, all the information that is considered public is information we want to see in print. The newspaper runs stories from the city councils, county commissions and school boards which make decisions that impact our lives.
However, it also runs divorces, speeding tickets and jail logs. We get calls on a regular basis from folks upset about their names appearing in these sections.
But, just as a democracy is a two-way street, so is open government. Even though we may not always like what we read, we must remember that it doesn’t take much of a push to send a chain of dominoes tumbling.
Dale Hogg is the managing editor of the Great Bend Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.