Let Sun Shine on Government
Readers count on reporters to cover the events they are not able to attend, to ask the questions they are not able to ask. That is more important than ever during a pandemic that has limited the public’s interaction with the government it elected. While technology has made massive strides — and if used properly, has expanded access in many ways — it “has created more problems” for public oversight, as David Cuillier, an associate journalism professor at the University of Arizona and president of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, put it.
During this year’s Sunshine Week, we recognize that with our forced separation and the use of technology comes an ability for those in government to curate the conversation. Reporters can find it difficult to log in, ask questions and reach sources they would normally have seen face-to-face during in-person public meetings. Certainly members of the public who might have found it relatively easy to attend a meeting and ask a question or give input have varying degrees of internet access and technological know-how that change their ability to interact with their government.
“The problem, of course, is not hearing what people have to say. It’s getting a grossly distorted representation of people’s views because certain organized groups totally dominate the input,” Arizona Rep. John Kavanaugh told the Associated Press.
Transparency and accessibility to our government are essential.
Elected officials and those they appoint to be stewards of our money have a duty to adhere to open meetings and other “sunshine” laws, as they use that money for its intended purpose — to serve us. The challenges of a global pandemic are no excuse to make it harder for the public to know what government is doing.
Democratic Missouri Rep. Tracy McCreery told the Associated Press she fears the lack of remote testimony is “shutting down public voices.”
That is unacceptable, of course. Elected officials and bureaucrats alike should not need a designated Sunshine Week to remind them of that. But as it seems necessary to repeat the News Leaders Association’s theme this year that “Open government is good government,” we will take advantage of the opportunity.