03/14/06 — Illumination: Sunshine Week shines on essential rights

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Illumination: Sunshine Week shines on essential rights

Sunshine is really something you only appreciate when it isn’t there.

So, in a country where freedom reigns and individual expression is valued and encouraged, it is sometimes tough to appreciate the efforts that are required every day to make sure the right to know remains just that — a right and not a privilege that is extended only to a select few.

In some countries, freedom of information is really nothing more than a dream for the future. To dig for the whole story and to expose corruption and waste is to put your life on the line. Journalists who push for information and truth often find themselves at the mercy of a leadership that can not only stop their publication, but can put them in jail.

So, Americans, so used to the openness that is fought for and protected by the U.S. press, have little understanding of what it must be like to live in a country where the evening news is little more than propaganda, and a newspaper that tells the whole story is a treaured commodity.

This week, American newspapers and other media outlets will take the time to celebrate Sunshine Week. The idea is not only to honor the contributions made every day by journalists who refuse to accept the party line, but also to remind U.S. citizens that a right so readily taken for granted can easily be lost through indifference.

It encourages readers and professionals to demand nothing less than the free flow of information — with limits only when national security or other pressing interest would be endangered by the revelation, and a public official has proven such a risk in court.

And it should push all of us to demand the open records and meetings that allow us to participate in our government rather than being a “yes-electorate.”

If you didn’t know that your local government had proposed a certain new regulation that will go into effect in three days or that a city official just ordered his driveway paved or eased the permit procedure for a contributor, how could you make a responsible decision on where to cast your vote, or even how to speak out to stop the practice?

After more than 200 years of enjoying the rights that go along with being a free society, Americans are sometimes all too willing to sit back and assume that someone else is protecting their interests.

Sunshine Week is the chance to remind ourselves that the right to know — just like any other — must be safeguarded every day by not only the professionals, but the free citizens who benefit from its presence.

Published in Editorials on March 14, 2006 11:03 AM