Thursday, March 14, 2019

Marin IJ Editorial: A reminder of the importance of the public’s right to know

Editorial: A reminder of the importance of the public’s right to know

Tyrants who suppress speech are not worthy of respect.

March 14, 2019 at 10:23 am

Many worthy causes latch onto weeks or months every calendar year to promote public awareness of important issues.

News editors and reporters have one, too. It usually doesn’t generate framed proclamations from town councils or boards of supervisors, who routinely pass resolutions designating months and days in honor of various causes.

But now you know: This week is national Sunshine Week, a campaign launched by the American Society of News Editors to shine a bright light on the need for open government and the importance of a free press.

The week intentionally coincides with the March 16 birth date of James Madison, one of the United States’ chief architects and a primary author of the U.S. Constitution, on which our rights and privileges are built.

In 1865, then-President Abraham Lincoln summed up our founding fathers’ vision when he spoke of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Some 50 years later, Louis Brandeis, who would go on to become a Supreme Court justice, wrote about the importance of public awareness as a “remedy” for corruption: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

It is with that objective that newspapers, radio, television and online media work to bring “sunshine” to government, important social and political issues and business.

The Independent Journal is among them, having covered news, needs and changes across Marin County for more than 150 years.

The media landscape, however, has changed dramatically as the internet has eaten away at the financial sustenance that had enabled newspapers — large and small, metropolitan and local — and TV and radio stations to maintain larger staffs to cover and report the news.

In the past 15 years, nearly one in five newspapers has stopped publishing, and thousands of journalists have lost their jobs, according to a study by Penelope Muse Abernathy, the Knight chair in Journalism and Media Economics at the University of North Carolina.

Digital startups haven’t had much of an impact in replacing newspapers that have vanished. And newspapers have grown thinner, as has TV and radio news coverage.

By our coverage, we seek out facts and figures we hope are of interest and of help to decision-makers and the public who have every right to information that is affecting those decisions.

Unfortunately, the concept that “the public has a right to know” is not always a top priority of our government. Decision-makers often seem to forget or avoid the adage and find themselves stumbling into controversy.

A good local example is county supervisors’ handling of plans to purchase the San Geronimo Golf Course, cooked up behind closed doors at the Civic Center and then rushed through the approval process. It generated enough public controversy that the county’s plan collapsed, and an initiative aimed at preserving the golf course will be on the ballot in 2020. The costs are being paid by taxpayers.

Had the public’s right to know been a higher priority, perhaps this issue wouldn’t have become the political train wreck it has been thus far.

see the article in the Marin IJ HERE

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