These are challenging times for the media, which are considered “the enemy of the people” by President Trump and his administration enablers. The president has made clear his hatred for the media by barring certain journalists from White House press briefings.
However, this is the start of Sunshine Week, a nationwide initiative to educate the public about the importance of transparent government. And it is the perfect time to declare that the president’s tactics won’t work. The tagline explaining Sunshine Week’s mission is, “It’s Your Right to Know.” Banning reporters from the White House, “the people’s house,” is only firing up the people to unequivocally claim that right.
It’s a principle in which the Miami Herald and so many of its media peers across the country resolutely believe — and deliver on.
In shunning the media, skittish, secretive and thin-skinned elected officials actually dismiss the very people who put them in office. In addition, many of those same people are catching on, turning to trustworthy media outlets again for the facts.
In Florida, the challenge for reporters is one of maintaining open government and transparency — and fighting to preserve that transparency and the right to know with a GOP-controlled Legislature that seeks to dim Florida’s 1909 Sunshine Law.
The Herald is among the state sunshine laws most ardent and engaged supporters. But access should be a concern for all.
Believe it or not, Floridians are lucky. For all of lawmakers’ misguided efforts to clamp down on the public’s right to know, Florida remains a progressive state in this regard. At the very least, it has sunshine and open-records laws on the books, giving us the leverage to access government information. However, over the years, elected officials have hacked away at the law’s intent. More hacking is in store unless the public speaks up and says No way!
During this legislative session, several bills are floating around that would further hide vital information. They must be stopped in the spirit of the law’s intent.
“Newspapers in Florida have grown concerned as lawmakers have slowly chipped away at our open records law, either with new laws and restrictions or with excessive copying fees for public records,” said Aminda Marqúes Gonzalez. She is the Herald’s executive editor and also president of the Florida Society of News Editors. “FSNE, and all the newspapers it represents, are uniting to closely monitor these legal attacks on the spirit of the Sunshine Law.”
According to Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, Sunshine Week in Florida started as Sunshine Sunday, a day to educate the public on the importance of open-government laws and how those laws allow citizens to hold officials accountable.
More than 100 years after Florida’s Sunshine Law was enacted, smart phones are a new frontier. Back in the day, records were paper, then emails. Fortunately, by law, text messages sent and received by the state’s public officials that deal with official business are public records, regardless of whether the device used is private or a government-owned phone.
Don’t think open-government laws are designed to help the media solely. Everyone, regardless of political affiliation, advocacy or profession is dependent on them. These are challenging times, and we all must be up to the challenge.