Sunshine Week (2019)

“Communication is in many ways the most complicated of human activities, and no simple rule can properly deal with all the different kinds of harms that it can cause—or all the different kinds of harms that restricting communication can cause,” wrote Eugene Volokh, the Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law in 2017.

Set against that backdrop is this year’s Sunshine Week, March 10-16, 2019.

Keep in mind that government transparency is an ongoing battle. Preserving that transparency requires vigilance from the press, the public and even advocates. If the public and the press look away, public officials will find new ways to keep the people in Wisconsin, and across the country, out of the sunshine.

The press has experienced wins for transparency during the past year. For example, the Congressional Research Service, after years of pressure, finally started to release its excellent reports publicly.

News organizations across the country forced local officials to provide information about public school pensions in Pennsylvania, air pollution along the California-Mexico border and sexual harassment among Georgia state employees.

Press and open government advocates efforts to gain more transparency have evolved. Governments at all levels provide huge amounts of information without the need for a formal public records request.

People in many states, including Wisconsin, can watch legislative hearings on live streaming with their computers or tablets, or on cable channels such as WisconsinEye, or archived on an official site.

Bills in statehouses and Congress can be found online, usually with tracking records so people can learn who sponsored what and when the vote is set.

Each year, Sunshine Week focuses attention on access to public information, open government and journalism’s role in promoting transparency. But what if there is no news outlet to shine the light?

During the past 15 years, newspaper closures and consolidations have left more than 1,400 cities across the U.S. without their main source of regular local news. What that loss means to the community and the ability to hold officials and government institutions accountable is the focus of this year’s Sunshine Week.

The American Society of News Editors launched the first national Sunshine Week in 2005 to coincide with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, father of the Constitution and a key advocate of the Bill of Rights. This year, ASNE, The Associated Press and Associated Press Media Editors mark the occasion with a package that examines a new and troubling trend across American journalism: the loss or diminishment of local news coverage.

Join us in observing Sunshine Week, which began on Sunday, March 10, and the importance of preserving press freedom for governmental transparency. That transparency, as intended by the Founding Fathers, more fully informs the consent of the governed.

For more information about Sunshine Week, visit sunshineweek.org, follow Sunshine Week on Twitter and Facebook, and look for the hashtag #SunshineWeek on social media.

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