Mike McKibbin

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March 13, 2013
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Let the sunshine in: It's up to me and you

As a (almost always) proud member of the Fourth Estate for most of my adult life, I've taken the responsibilities that come with the job very seriously. None more so than when issues arise where the public's right to know what their government is doing is questioned.

Sometimes those issues turn into mountains, other times they're mole hills. But I can't think of anything more important for a journalist to do.

But not just an editor, reporter, broadcaster or a blogger.

You, too.

That's partly why this week, March 10-16, is Sunshine Week across the U.S.

The week grew out of Sunshine Sunday in 2002, an event developed by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in response to efforts by some Florida legislators to create scores of new exemptions to the state's public records law.

Sunshine Sunday is thought to have helped defeat some 300 exemptions to open government laws in the "sunshine sate."

Sunshine Week was launched by the American Society of News Editors in March 2005. The nonpartisan, nonprofit initiative is celebrated in mid-March each year to coincide with James Madison's birthday on March 16. Madison is known by some historians as the "Father of the Constitution" and "Father of the Bill of Rights."

The main goal of Sunshine Week is to enlighten and empower people - all people, not just journalists - to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.

In a column written for this year's Sunshine Week, Jim Lee, editor of the Carroll County (Md.) Times, recounted a call from someone years earlier that claimed they were not being allowed access to public records.

"He told me that the paper needed to pursue getting the records that he sought and had been denied," Lee wrote.

"They have to give it to you," Lee quoted the caller. "You're the newspaper."

"I told him that government agencies did not have to comply with record requests simply because they came from a newspaper, or any medium," Lee continued. "We have no special right to access. In fact, public records laws, and well as open meetings laws, are in place to guarantee that any citizen has access to information concerning how their government is doing business."

As Lee pointed out, the First Amendment guarantees government will not control the press. But otherwise, journalists only have the same rights as you reading this now.

"Overseeing government at all levels is not a press right, it is a right of every citizen," Lee summed up. "And the more citizens exercise that right, the better our government will become."

I couldn't say it any better.

Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.

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The Post Independent Updated Mar 13, 2013 05:57PM Published Mar 13, 2013 05:55PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.