This is Sunshine Week, a time to celebrate the First Amendment and our ability to keep government bodies accountable and transparent by demanding open meetings and access to public documents.
Sunshine laws benefit all Americans because they support news media’s watchdog efforts. There is a need for consistent vigilance, in Ohio and beyond.
Lawmakers in the General Assembly are constantly taking swipes at measures that keep open records — and the process for obtaining them — streamlined and affordable. The assault is happening at every level of government, though, from local to federal.
In Ohio, nearly 30 types of government records are exempt from disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act. There is a growing culture of closed doors and windows, disguised as government “executive sessions” that the public and press are not permitted to attend, or executive privilege, which allows elected officials to hide public records.
This week, a survey by the American Press Institute concluded that most Americans of all ages still seek meaty news — natural disasters, local news, politics, the economy, crime, and foreign coverage. The majority of this coverage emerges from documents and the flow of information obtained by reporters.
Americans may covet their celebrity gossip, sports, and frivolous Facebook posts, but 9 out of 10 adults said they enjoy keeping up with the news. And more than 6 in 10 said that wherever they find the news — television, Web sites, radio, newspapers, magazines, or social networks — they prefer getting it directly from a news organization.
Sunshine Week reminds Americans that this country is built on checks and balances of the government, both internal and external. The public’s right to know — and media’s ability to disseminate information — are the cornerstones of our democracy.