This is Sunshine Week

Snshine Week is an annual national event that promotes the importance of open government and freedom of information. It is not just something for the media to talk about. It’s an issue every citizen should talk about. The growing need to spend a week advocating for that cause should alarm all of us.
We are living in a time when government is making strong efforts to be less free with information. It is becoming less open with its citizens. It is looking for more reasons, more excuses, more laws and regulations that justify keeping more secrets and getting more information about those to whom it should be more open.
Much of the abuse is explained as a matter of national security. Much of the abuse is rationalized as making sure nobody misspeaks.
In a day when many people criticize governments as being unresponsive in so many ways, there is relatively little demand for openness and public access.
We have written several times of the Nixon administration’s clear efforts to control or conceal information from Missourians. But the problem is not unique in Missouri.
Colleague Mike Cavender, the Executive Director of the Radio-Television Digital News Association, recalls in his most recent column that President Obama promised on the first day of his administration to be “the most transparent administration in history.” Mike continues, “‘The reality is, after more than five years, President Obama and his administration have denied access to or censored government records an astonishing amount of the time.” An analysis by the Associated Press shows the Obama administration refused full cooperation on 546,000 of 700,000 requests for records last year.
In Missouri, the Nixon administration has built walls and erected roadblocks repeatedly that limit and control information the public deserves to have. Nixon has talked of making sure his administration speaks with a single voice, a position that is an excuse, not a reason, for controlling the message. The truth is that controlling the message and shutting off information Missourians deserve to have has become the same thing.
Missouri does have a Sunshine Law that requires records be available to the public and that public meetings be open to the public. The law does have some exceptions–public bodies don’t have to meet in the open to talk about hiring, firing, and promotion of personnel, for example. The law does not REQUIRE such activities be closed. It’s permissive. But the natural tendency of government to do things secretly means public bodies will opt for secrecy whenever they are given an option.
The problem with overt control of information is that secrecy increasingly breeds suspicion and suspicion increasingly breeds theories of conspiracy. Beliefs in conspiracies are fertile ground for irrational thoughts and actions that can be manifested as repressive policies based on fears, or policies favorable to those who know how best to take advantage of those fears and that distrust.
One of the core ideals of a free society is that a well-informed public will make decisions most beneficial to the community.
Unfortunately our Sunshine law has only gums, not teeth. And whenever the somebody proposes a bill that gives it teeth, others stop the proceedings by introducing amendments creating more loopholes and closing more doors. So much for that core ideal.
It’s too bad that so many people are spending so much effort during this Sunshine Week to keep the public in the dark. The problem will not be solved by those who prefer living in the dark. It can only be solved by those who truly believe light is the great cleansing agent.

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