I’m a bit behind in taking note of Sunshine Week (which was March 12 – 18), a nationwide effort launched in 2005 to create and spread nationwide awareness about the importance of citizen access to what government is up to at all levels.
On the organization’s website (sunshineweek.org), you can find more elegant language about its goals:
“Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why. Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger. Participants include news media, government officials at all levels, schools and universities, libraries and archives, individuals, non-profit and civic organizations, historians and anyone with an interest in open government.
“Sunshine Week was created by the American Society of News Editors and is now coordinated in partnership with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, but freedom of information isn’t just a press issue. It is a cornerstone of democracy, enlightening and empowering people to play an active role in their government at all levels. It helps keep public officials honest, makes government more efficient and provides a check against abuse of power.”
Those principles are more important than ever as the current presidential adminstration aggressively and deliberately pursues an authoritarian agenda of discrediting the news media and sowing doubt about the value of factual reporting. Undermining legitimate news outlets is step one on the path to totalitarianism.
The Trump administration’s seeming intent is to blot out the sunshine in favor of utter darkness, where the information we are entitled to for making decisions about the future of our country is hidden away, or supplanted by disinformation and misdirection campaigns.
Members of the Trump administration have, on many occasions, made unveiled threats against journalists, promising retribution, punishment or some other some other kind of suppressing action. The message is clear: payback is coming from the White House if they don’t like what you do. We’ve been warned against pursuing the truth and told to “shut up” when we reveal it. These things should be unimaginable in a democratic society.
Trump, a steadfast enemy of honesty and transparency, has declared the legitimate news media the “enemy of the people.” I am an enemy, I admit. I’m an enemy of egregious lies from the very top of government on down. I’m an enemy of “fake news” propaganda mills like the Breitbarts of the world. I’m an enemy of threats and aggression against the legitimate news gatherers and publishers of vital, fact-based information.
I’ve devoted my entire adult life to journalism, and despite negative public perceptions (created and promulgated mainly by politicians and their hacks), it has been nothing but an honorable profession. I’ve known hundreds of smart, capable, productive journalists, every one of them devoted — at great personal cost sometimes — to bringing truthful reporting to your doorstep, computer, radio dial or TV screen.
We’re learned to endure the disparagement. But what we face now is dangerous not only to journalism practitioners but also to the fundamental assumptions of American democracy. Absent a robust news media universe, we may end up with the one-source information stream that was so terrifyingly depicted in the book 1984 (check it out at the library — the parallels between what that fictional government did, and what our real government wants to do, should scare the hell out of you).
For all that, what journalists do is not ultimately about us. It’s about you. It bears repeating, and re-repeating: the public in “public’s right to know” is you. Access to public meetings, documents and other information is not the exclusive reserve of the news media. In fact, we are essentially acting as the public’s surrogate when we insist that meetings be open, that records be available and that political figures be accountable. Providing appropriate access is a responsibility of government at every level.
Your role as a citizen is to insist on maximum transparency from your government. These days, the assaults on that principle are constant and menacing.
Yup, I feel pretty strongly about this. But if we don’t stand up, say something, do something, and demand credibility from our government, we’ll all be buried in the rubble that was once democracy after Steve Bannon and his crew brandish their wrecking ball. When the First Amendment falls, all the rest will topple like dominoes.
Embrace the sunshine.