Our opinion: Let the sunshine in!
This is Sunshine Week, first launched in 2005 by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to celebrate the public’s access to information. Coinciding with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution and an advocate of the Bill of Rights, the week focuses on a free media and how it must be used responsibly. In an age of “fake news” and a strong bias one way or the other by the national media, it is even more important than ever for the public to have full access to public records and meetings. This is one reason your local community newspaper, the Americus Times-Recorder, exists.
Tasked with holding the government’s feet to the fire and attempting to keep its elected official on the straight and narrow where transparency is not only a right but a responsibility, the Times-Recorder has its work cut out. For the most part local agencies abide by the state’s laws governing open meetings and records, but when one or another attempts a cover-up, things can become complicated and rarely end well.
The leadership of this newspaper is fully aware of the laws regarding public meetings and records, and we do not back down. The public has a right to know, and it is our responsibility to inform them.
When this newspaper makes an open records request, it is not a personal agenda. It is a quest for the facts. It can be a request made to the newspaper on the part of an individual or a group of individuals for information. It is a routine practice, and it is the law. The newspaper represents the public. The newspaper is the public.
We have heard from different sectors: why do you want to know? The answer to that question is: because the public has a right to know, and our reasoning has nothing to do with the request. As professional journalists, we keep our personal feelings and opinions out of the process and do our job in seeking the facts and publishing the facts.
If all governmental agencies would choose to operate above board and with transparency, there would be far less suspicion from the public regarding the agencies’ operations. The very worst thing a public official can do, other than break faith with the public, is to try to cover it up. It only becomes higher and deeper, but truth has a way of prevailing.
In an era in which the national media has a very low trust and respect rate, the Times-Recorder is proud to continue its long tradition of doing the right thing: treating all the same in an attempt to provide the public with not only what they want to know but what they need to know in order to be an informed citizenry capable of making educated choices.