We’re The Real Public Servants
It has never been easy to pry information public officials want to keep secret out of their hands. But I’ve been a newspaperman for more than 40 years – and I don’t ever recall it being as difficult as it is now.
Last week, many of us in the press observed “Sunshine Week” in various ways. The idea was to inform you, our readers, about government threats to your right to know.
More than most of the government officials who use the title, we in the press are public servants. We give you information you want on sports, entertainment, etc. We also try to keep you abreast of what you need to know about crime, the economy, politics, social issues and other factors that affect your daily lives.
Some politicians don’t want you to know some of what we report.
Part of their rationale is that, well, you just don’t have all the information they have and don’t really understand what they’re doing. That’s no excuse for withholding public records and holding secret meetings.
Our public service function is that we spend the time to learn about and report the news to you, because you don’t have the time to attend all those meetings, look at all those records, make all those telephone calls and perform the other tasks we do on your behalf.
Gaining access to some records has gotten tougher in a variety of ways during the past several years. For one thing, government officials are more likely than in the past to tell us we can have documents only if we file formal Freedom of Information Act requests.
For another, they’ve found new ways to get around complying with FOIA requests. One is to insist that letters outlining what we want are “overly broad” or not specific enough. Baloney. They know what we want.
Often, we don’t even plan to print records we request. We just want to look at the information to determine whether there is something there the public ought to know.
So, when a government official responding to a question tells us to go pound sand, he’s really saying that to you. And when he tells you the big bad “media” is your enemy, think carefully about his agenda.
Remember: All we can do is give you information, sometimes about how officials are doing their jobs. We have no other power. Why are the politicians so afraid of that?
Myer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.