Sunshine Week logo 2019

Yesterday was the start of Sunshine Week, which highlights our need — and your right — to know what our elected officials are doing and how our tax dollars are being spent.

The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said it best: “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. ...” In other words, public officials and others are more likely behave when they know that people are watching.

Many officials or group leaders try to avoid that light. In some more repressive nations,  they control media and even restrict public access to radio, television and internet. They withhold information about their actions and try to delegitimize news media by trying to convince people that they only offer “fake news.”

Our government is designed for public participation by voting officials in and out of office, attending meetings and petitioning our government for certain actions. So those meetings must be open to the public, and notice of those meetings must be published so that the people can attend if they wish. That’s why everyone, not just the news media, must have full access.

Some officials consider such oversight a nuisance, thinking they could do their work more efficiently if people would just stay out of the way. But, as the many criminal cases against Texas officials over the years have shown, some elected officials abuse their access to the public purse to benefit themselves, friends or family.

So it’s important to maintain vigilance, and news media have a two-pronged commitment to our public. We report the news, and we also wage a constant battle to defend public access to information, so that you can decide for yourselves what news is valid and which is “fake.”

Vigilance is especially important this year with the Texas Legislature. Members of the Texas Press Association, including this newspaper, and other organizations are monitoring bills that affect public access to information. We will support those that support the public’s right to know, and we will oppose those that try to restrict it.

Government officials can put up roadblocks ranging from outright denial to unreasonable fees for public information. Or they can prompt legal challenges that make citizens question whether the information is worth the trouble.

But the public’s right to know is worth it, and that is why news outlets across the country combine their efforts this week to highlight the public’s right to know about their government.

Of course, that right, and our efforts, continue year-round. But during this Sunshine Week, we shine the light a little brighter on the need to keep the public informed, and hold our government accountable.

— The Brownsville Herald