Editorial: The importance of open government
March 14, 2006
We live in an era when the rights our forefathers wisely crafted in the Bill of Rights have come under increasing government and public scrutiny. As the inevitable process of globalization marches forward, and the boundaries that used to separate us from the rest of the world blur, keeping government accountable and open – and limiting government influence in the free exchange of ideas and information – becomes as important now as any other time in our modern history.
We in the press pay exceptional homage to this openness. It is what allows us to do our job, and it is the first imperative of an effective government ruled “of the people, by the people, for the people.” March 12-18 we celebrate and bring awareness to an ongoing battle for open government during Sunshine Week, a creation of a consortium of print, online and broadcast media.
The First Amendment is the doctrine that guides our efforts, even at a small newspaper like the Tahoe Daily Tribune. While we place great value on the day-to-day stories about local sports teams, or breaking news, or even ski conditions, our most fundamental function is to tell the stories that affect civic life. We cannot do this without access to public records, budgets, open meetings and other tools that allow us or any citizen access to the public’s business.
A recent poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center (on behalf of the American Society of Newspaper Editors) found 62 percent of respondents believe “public access to government records is critical to the functioning of good government,” while only a third of respondents consider the federal government to be “very open.”
The difference in opinions illustrates a rift between what people want government to do, and what our government actually does. When government agencies fail to reveal in a timely manner the details of public business (a common problem in California, according to an Associated Press story in today’s paper), trust in government is eroded.
Vigilance is the message of Sunshine Week, because openness in government is something we should never sacrifice.
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