Guest View: It's always your right to know
March 25, 2022
Editor’s note: This column was written for Sunshine Week — an initiative by newspapers across the country to shine a light on the need for open government and access to public information — two years ago. This year, Sunshine Week was scheduled for March 13-19, but we agree with the writer that a person’s right to know should not be limited, and that includes promoting that right through editorials in your local newspaper. Enjoy.
The media are most definitely not your enemy.
Far from being the enemy of the people, day in and day out we take our role as the Fourth Estate seriously and work hard to protect your right to know, making public records requests and attending public meetings to keep you informed.
Because we believe all the business government does, whether in open public meetings or behind closed doors, is your business.
We believe every last penny government spends is your money.
We believe it is your right to know every transaction, every decision, every expenditure and every deliberation of your government.
Whether talking about the White House, the statehouse or the county courthouse, all the documents held in government halls belong to the people, and all the business conducted by our governors is public business.
We believe our government — your government — can only be of, by and for the people when it is out in front of the people.
Primary to our republic is the understanding that we are the government and the government is us.
The only powers held by federal, state or local government are the powers we give.
So, whether it is Congress, the state’s general assembly, county commission, city council or the board of education, it is your right to know all of the people’s business.
When you attend local city, county or school board meetings, ask questions and hold elected representatives accountable, you are not minding their business, you are minding your own business.
When you make a public records request, you are not asking local records custodians to give you something that just belongs to them or the office where they work. You are simply asking for your own documents.
The Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendment, which guarantees the freedom of speech and the freedom of press, is not intended to protect the media per se. Rather, the founders built a hedge of protection around the media because the media guards and fights for the public’s right to know.
According to a Brookings Institution report, more than 2,000 newspapers across the country ceased publication in the last 15 years or so. The shuttering of newspapers presents a very real and present danger to our most basic freedoms. That’s why communities should support their local newspapers, through subscriptions and advertising, now more than ever before.
Journalists keep an eye on government, shine the light on its actions, fight the good fight for access to documents and meetings, champion transparency and defend the First Amendment because of a core belief in your basic, fundamental rights — principally, your right to know.
Jim Zachary is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times, CNHI director of newsroom training and development and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.