National Sunshine Week is celebrated nationally each year to promote the benefits of open and transparent government and to remind the public that our government, as noted by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, is a “government of the people, for the people, by the people.” This year’s National Sunshine Week, March 15-21, began Monday with National Freedom of Information Day.
It is coincidental that this event is occurring as the country grapples with a variety of responses to the worldwide COVID-19 virus pandemic. It is in this environment that we should take comfort in knowing that our constitution assures us that while we are being required to follow government mandates, it is likewise a requirement that government be forthright in its reports to the public to justify its actions.
The Press writ large, including broadcasters, newspapers, along with a variety of recognized and trusted digital media sources, plays a major role in the effort to shed light on the actions of government. It for this reason that the press continues to promote the public’s right to know.
It is an age old problem that if we don’t like the message there’s a natural reaction to blame the messenger. Recently that has been the inclination of public officials and even the audience receiving the message. Terms such as “hyping the crises” or “biased reporting” have been used, particularly in the political environment.
But the news is what the news is.
The current situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic is an example of an unpleasant message resulting in blame being attributed to the messenger. But the messenger, in this case the media, is doing its job of informing the public. The public in turn should be doing its job in responding to the message either proactively through acceptance of the message or in challenging the conclusions of the message. Faulting the messenger accomplishes nothing other than diminishing the facts.
But sunshine is not only mandatory just in cases of national events such as the current pandemic. It is vital at the most mundane levels of government, including municipal and county board meetings. It is in these venues that government has the greatest influence, impacting the lives and finances of individuals and businesses. This is where the local media, and particularly local newspapers, are important as they report on the activities and decisions of local government. But the job can only be done if openness and transparency prevail.
This week, as the nation reels from government decisions that are impacting every citizen, it is the appropriate time to appreciate the continued presence and persistent reporting of our various media outlets. The news may not be comforting, but knowing that we have access to the decision making process should provide some solace as we deal with a truly historic event that has no modern equal.
Just as ultraviolet rays of sunshine can destroy a virus, metaphorically, sunshine in the form of open government and free access to information will destroy the chaos and anarchy that is an anathema to the free and vibrant democratic republic which is the United State of America.