Truth. Facts. Transparency. Simple words that shine even more brightly as we celebrate Sunshine Week.
This appropriately named week, organized 13 years ago by The American Society of Newspaper Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, helps all of us realize the importance of what freedom of information truly means. Information belongs in the hands of the people, and officials of government should never shield the public from this constitutional right. Making informed decisions and reporting real news starts with receiving the information that we are all entitled to, and this circle can only be completed when government entities comply.
The Sunshine Act and Right to Know Law are Pennsylvania’s primary public access laws. These laws guarantee the public’s right to access government information at public meetings and through public records. Public access to meetings and records is fundamental to the public’s ability to understand government actions and hold government officials accountable.
Trained professional journalists, and other interested parties, use this information to sift fact from fiction. However, collection of information is arduous, and entities who purposely shelter information to position or protect a certain agenda are impeding the process. Releasing cloudy and incomplete information is both deceptive and dangerous to us all. Unobstructed access to public information is vital to our democracy.
On behalf of newspapers across the state, The Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association is working with the Legislature to remove the unnecessary barriers that continue to block Pennsylvanians’ access to basic information from government. We are also advocating for public agencies to record executive sessions, for requiring agencies to provide agendas in advance of meetings — so the public can attend and participate in issues that matter to them, and for keeping public notices in newspapers so you know what’s going on in your community, and have a chance to participate in a decision before it happens. Newspapers’ watchdog role makes them ideally suited to ensure that public notices are kept in safe hands.
So, we observe Sunshine Week at this newspaper and celebrate why freedom of information through an open government is a bedrock of democracy. We cannot do our jobs if we are hamstrung by those that keep information from us, parcel it out or stop the flow altogether. Professional news organizations work hard at ensuring that reporting correct data and facts supersedes sensational and reckless reporting tactics. We cannot do this alone and must be unencumbered so that the truth shines brightly.
Welcome to Sunshine Week. Come outside and celebrate with us.
(By Mark Cohen, president of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.)