Brian J. Hunhoff Opinion writer

“Don’t take it personally.”

That’s usually good advice. But today, as we close out Sunshine Week, we urge the opposite reaction to any government body operating in the shadows, avoiding public scrutiny and genuine openness and transparency.

In other words, take closed government personally. Please.

  • Take it personally when public access to government records is refused, limited, or attached to excessive fees.
  • Take it personally when a judge jails a reporter for refusing to reveal a confidential source.
  • Take it personally when elected officials and city leaders refuse to answer calls or emails from journalists asking probing questions about projects or policy.
  • Take it personally when you can’t easily locate public records online.
  • Take it personally when information packets lack crucial information, or list vague reasons for going into closed session.

Take all of this personally because it directly affects the quality and scope of government information you get, especially what you get from the press.

Wouldn’t it be great if more people understood a reporter’s exclusion from discussion also excludes them, the general public, from learning details that are being hidden?

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone embraced the notion that government openness is an essential pillar of democracy?

Wouldn’t it be great if more people remembered the press serves as their eyes and ears in the halls of government?

Wouldn’t it be great to see people everywhere show passion and unity in the fight for freedom of information and the battle against government secrecy?

That, indeed, would be great. It isn’t enough to say the word “transparency,” because actions speak louder than words. Journalists are here to hold public officials accountable. Sometimes the questions are difficult. But good government means using the information journalists discover to make better decisions for the community. Ego has no place here.

It’s your government. You pay for it. You pay the salaries of every city and county employee. You pay board members and city council members. And as such, they are accountable — to you.

Don’t stand for anything less.

6 replies on “OUR VIEW: Go ahead, take closed government personally”

  1. Spot-on Shereen! Folks shouldn’t loose sight of attempts to limit how we get our news too. Don’t forget that for those tidbits that state officials can’t keep from journalists, the elimination of “Net Neutrality” will work to limit our access to news sources other than those controlled by big corporations, aka “official sources.” Some in Wisconsin, as in other states (like Washington) are pushing back against Federal Rules and are making laws to protect our freedoms at home.

  2. The press is the watchdog for the people. Growing up in my era we heard this from our parents a lot, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide”. It’s a simple common sense phrase that stands true in almost any situation. It shouldn’t have to take a reporter digging for the truth, our government (from city to the White House) has a responsibility to be open, transparent, and honest with the people. Unfortunately there’s too much corruption, favoritism, and shady deals going on that just falls under “business as usual” for our leaders. I’m thankful for freedom of the press and proud of all the brave journalists who keep the public informed.

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