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Continuing to shine the light

Today marks the start of the annual Sunshine Week.

It’s about openness in government, not just about press relations, though it’s often the institutionalized journalist who’s on the front lines of records requests and preventing illegal closed-door meetings of public bodies.

Sunshine Week is an effort of the News Leaders Association and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

It’s an important recognition — especially when it seems like the media and the press are under constant attack, not only from those who the nation’s newsmen and newswomen are committed to questioning and taking to task, but from those they serve in the general public.

We live in a nation that depends on public input to make government work and be responsive. We are not a people given to simply accepting the dictates of its leaders, but requiring those leaders to be honest in their dealings with the formation of rules and regulations and public policy. The stories often are not pretty, but they are the ones that must be told for us to be able to enjoy the freedoms we have as Americans.

It is for those reasons that Sunshine Laws were written, to keep the light of day, as it is, shining on every recess of every public government organization.

This means not only protecting investigating and inquiring journalists of every stripe, but also protecting the whistleblowers, the people with knowledge of situations in government or the private sector who serve the greater common good by bringing to light facts that otherwise might go unseen, to the detriment of the rest of society.

It’s a week for the private citizen to recognize their rights to inquire and require, through Freedom of Information Act requests, information from their governments.

It’s not about right or left, or Republican or Democrat. Rather, it’s about openness and honesty and knowing what to do and how to achieve the goals of openness and honesty.

It is a week that calls attention to the right to know and the responsibility of how to hold that right and treat it with respect.

For example, a free and open press has ensured that area residents were aware Weirton had a “cash flow” problem. It has ensured that Steubenville residents have been kept up to date on issues involving first responders, notably a lack of adequate ambulance protection. Jefferson County residents have been kept informed about the potential reopening of the Crossridge Landfill and concerns that have been raised about the operation of the county health department.

As COVID-19 concerns have grown, we’ve worked to provide accurate, verified information about what each of us can do to help mitigate the potential risks and steps being taken on the state and national levels to help minimize health concerns.

In an era when every institution from the CIA down to the school board might just want to do business without the pesky inquiries and intervention of the “general public,” whatever that might be, it is a good week to remember that the people employ the government. It’s not the other way around.

The free flow of information and response to legitimate inquiry is a necessity beyond measure of worth if we are to preserve the nation as the often-cited beacon of freedom that it is supposed to be.

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