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Sunshine Week: Open government, access to information crucial to democracy

Sunshine Week: Open government, access to information crucial to democracy

March 11th, 2019 by Gazette Staff in Opinion Editorial

Back in 2002, some members of the Florida Legislature apparently decided that the good folks who elected them were getting a bit too nosy about what was going on in the state capitol.

So they decided to offer legislation that would restrict the public's access to some previously open records.

They might have gotten away with it. Many in the public would probably have never known.

But newspapers in the state decided to fight. They banded together and declared "Sunshine Sunday," publishing articles and editorial against the proposals.

It took three years—but about 300 bills to restrict information were voted down in the the Legislature, largely because of the media attention.

In 2005, the American Society of Newspaper Editors took the idea nationwide and extended it to seven days. Sunshine Week was set for mid-March to coincide with President James Madison's birthday.

We in the news businesses mark this week, which began Sunday. And we encourage everyone to think about the importance of open government and open access to public information. Especially in an era when the free press is under attack from those at the top of U.S. government and some states—including Arkansas—are trying to keep more and more from the public eye.

Because it's not just journalists who benefit from such access.

Members of the public at times have reason to request public information. And reason to file Freedom of Information Act requests from all levels of government, local state or federal.

Yes, there are some things that must remain secret in the interest of national security. But the people of this great nation do not have to accept government that operates in the shadows. Our government officials must be accountable for their actions. Public awareness is a big part of that.

And Sunshine Week is all about that awareness.

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