Safeguarding Right to Know
No sooner do elected officials proclaim their regard for a free press and an informed public than – often in meetings held covertly – they begin chipping away at their constituents’ right to know. That has been the history of our states and nation.
Seldom has the right to know been under a comprehensive assault such as has been taking place during the past few years, however. Even as the government demands to know more about us, often cloaking the scheme in programs such as Obamacare to convince the public it’s all for our own good, the door to accountability through the right to know is being closed, inch by inch.
This next seven days have been designated as Sunshine Week by various organizations concerned about erosions of the right to know. The goal is to remind Americans of how vital it is that government not be conducted in secret and how frequently the right to know is assaulted.
Public officials never, ever proclaim that the founders of our nation and states were wrong about the importance of an informed public – and a free press to keep it that way. Instead, they chip away, bit by bit reducing to rubble guarantees such as those in the First Amendment and in state Freedom of Information laws.
A local meeting closed “for personnel reasons” here, an exemption from state Freedom of Information laws “to protect privacy” there, with a refusal to provide federal records “for national security” thrown in – and pretty soon, you’re talking real, serious limits on the public’s right to know.
Several examples were on display during the recent regular session of the West Virginia Legislature. Attempts were made to limit access to various specific types of information. Fortunately, the most serious threats were turned back.
But rest assured, in Charleston, Columbus, Washington – and local communities – there will be more attempts to limit the public’s right to know.
They will affect us all directly – in the taxes we pay, how our children are educated, whether government officials are honest and even in matters of personal safety.
So, not just during Sunshine Week but whenever you talk with public officials at any level, tell them you’re wise to the scheme. Tell them you won’t tolerate attempts to conduct government in secret. Remind them it’s your right to know – and you intend to protect it.