It’s always your right to know

The media is most definitely not your enemy.

Far from being the enemy of the people, day in and day out we take our role as the Fourth Estate seriously and work hard to protect your right to know, making public records requests and attending public meetings to keep you informed.

Why?

Because we believe all the business government does, whether in open public meetings or behind closed doors, is your business.

We believe every last penny government spends is your money.

We believe it is your right to know every transaction, every decision, every expenditure and every deliberation of your government.

Whether talking about the White House, the statehouse or the county courthouse, all the documents held in government halls belong to the people, and all the business conducted by our governors is public business.

We believe our government — your government — can only be of, by and for the people when it is out in front of the people.

Primary to our Republic is the understanding that we are the government and the government is us.

The only powers held by federal, state or local government are the powers we give.

So, whether it is Congress, the state’s General Assembly, county commission, city council or the board of education, it is your right to know all of the people’s business.

When you attend local city, county or school board meetings, ask questions and hold elected representatives accountable, you are not minding their business, you are minding your own business.

When you make a public records request, you are not asking local records custodians to give you something that just belongs to them or the office where they work. You are simply asking for your own documents.

The Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendment which guarantees the freedom of speech and the freedom of press, is not intended to protect the media per se. Rather, the founders built a hedge of protection around the media because the media guards and fights for the public’s right to know.

According to a Brookings Institution report, more than 2,000 newspapers across the country ceased publication in the last 15 years or so. The shuttering of newspapers presents a very real and present danger to our most basic freedoms. That’s why communities should support their local newspapers, through subscriptions and advertising, now more than ever before.

Journalists keep an eye on government, shine the light on its actions, fight the good fight for access to documents and meetings, champion transparency and defend the First Amendment because of a core belief in your basic, fundamental rights — principally, your right to know.

Jim Zachary is deputy national editor for CNHI, parent company of the Gainesville Daily Register, and president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. Reach him at jzachary@cnhi.com.


Sunshine Week 2020: It’s your right to know

Every year, the news industry comes together to celebrate the importance of access to public information during Sunshine Week, an initiative led by the News Leaders Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The 15th annual Sunshine Week is March 15-21 this year. It was launched in 2005 as a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

The week is scheduled each year around the anniversary of James Madison’s birth on March 16, 1751. Madison, the father of our federal Constitution, wrote that “consent of the governed” requires that the people be able to “arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Every citizen in our participatory democracy has an inherent right to access to government meetings and public records, and an open and accessible government is vital to establishing and maintaining the people’s trust and confidence in their government and in the government’s ability to effectively serve its citizens.

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