A traditional function of the press is to serve as a watchdog to government agencies, and an important component of that is agencies’ compliance with laws backing the public’s right to know.
To celebrate this function of the free press, the American Society of News Editors launched the first national Sunshine Week in 2005. This year, Sunshine Week begins today and runs through March 21. The week intentionally coincides with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, who was a key advocate of the Bill of Rights and for whom our county is named.
Herald Bulletin crime reporter Traci Miller in today’s edition reports on areas where law enforcement falls short of providing information that is legally required to be available to the public.
Throughout the history of journalism, the press has had to nurture a close working relationship with government agencies while also being a thorn in their side, all in the name of preserving the public record.
Transparency of law enforcement agencies is important on several levels. Arrests and prosecutions are public record to ensure that the justice system is held accountable to the public that it serves. All citizens are innocent until proven guilty, and no portion of that process can unfold in secret.
Transparency is also important because citizens have a right to know how their tax money is being spent. As such, police activity should be made known to the public.
It is important to note that we take up this cause not for the sake of badgering the police, but rather to serve the public interest.
This Sunshine Week, we are reminded that we the press function as the eyes, ears and voice of our readers.