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Let the sun shine

March 11 through 17 marks “Sunshine Week,” a time to be cognizant of the vital need for transparency in government and freedom of information. Sunshine laws are the regulations that help to keep government accountable by ensuring that government officials conduct business openly, knowing that the eyes of the public are on them.

Journalism is on the front line of that effort.

It was Nov. 19, 1863, that Abraham Lincoln exhorted citizens to resolve “...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Functional, democratic government that is “of the people, by the people, for the people” doesn’t happen in the dark. The American Society of News Editors launched the Sunshine Week initiative in 2005 to help citizens keep that concept in mind.

Here in Indiana, we have the Open Door law that requires government meetings to be conducted publicly. Executive sessions, or closed meetings, are permissible only for a small class of topics, such as personnel issues, collective bargaining and the sale or acquisition of real estate.

This is no small matter. While most government meetings are sparsely attended, journalists make it their business to be in that audience as the eyes and ears of the public. When necessary, journalists depend on the tool of the Freedom of Information Act as well to access documents that shed further light on the actions of government.

German physicist Werner Heisenberg helped us to see that the act of observing changes the thing observed. Molecules and particles aside, this is certainly true of our government officials. The more we pay attention to the actions of our representatives in government, the more likely we’re going to see those government officials aspire to a better performance on behalf of the people.

While journalism these days is oft-maligned, there are still many true, dedicated journalists on the job every day in this nation and here at The Herald-Press doing crucial work. As times and technology have changed, creating new and daunting challenges, journalists have kept their eyes focused on the important work of empowering the people with information. Sunshine laws are part of the toolbox on which journalists rely.

Journalism is essential in aspiring to the healthy democracy that Lincoln discussed that day in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It’s also essential for the citizenry to engage with the information journalists work so hard to get, and to keep our officials accountable. Even better, citizens themselves can show up to see what their government is doing. By watchdogging our elected folks, we help them to seek the higher road, and to remain ‘of the people.’

So this week and every week, we here at The Herald-Press say, “Let the sun shine.”