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EDITORIAL/Sunshine Week: Open government, access to public information essential to democracy

March 12, 2023 at 10:00 p.m.

Today we begin Sunshine Week, which spotlights the public's right to know what their government and elected officials are up to.

A little background. In 2002, some members of the Florida Legislature apparently decided that the good folks 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 -- during which time about 300 bills to restrict information were voted down in the the Florida 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 business encourage everyone to think about the importance of open government and open access to public information.

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

Members of the public at times have reason to request public information. And 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 those are the exception, not the rule. The people of this great nation do not have to accept a government that routinely operates in the shadows. Our government officials must be accountable for their actions. Public awareness is a big part of that.

One thing Arkansas residents should be aware of is HB 1399, which if passed and signed into law, would mean local governments would no longer be required to publish public notices in newspapers of record. Instead, the notices would appear on state-run websites. That makes it less likely members of the public might take notice.

It's a bad idea. If you agree, let your elected representative know how you feel. Keep the light shining.

Print Headline: EDITORIAL/Sunshine Week: Open government, access to public information essential to democracy


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