Guest Editorial: Let the Sun Shine In

Sunshine Week sheds light upon the laws that allow citizens access to public records. The celebration promotes a transparent government and shines light into the dark recesses of government secrecy, according to the South Carolina Press Association (SCPA).

Sunshine Week was first launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Leaders, now named the News Leaders Association (NLA). The NLA in conjunction with the Society of Professional Journalism (SPJ) said the annual celebration empowers people to take an active role at all levels of government.

Kimberly Schumacher, a senior communication, media, and culture lecturer and former TV news reporter, said Sunshine Week was created as a result of two laws that guaranteed public access to government records.

SCPA Attorney Taylor Smith said our democracy is dependent on the ability of citizens to be informed about how elected officials operate. Otherwise, he said they would get to operate outside of the bounds of what society should be concerned with.

“When government transparency declines, distrust grows within those systems,” Smith said, “and sometimes good reporting results in a fractured relationship between journalists and those in power.”

Schumacher said the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), passed in the ‘60s, was a federal law guaranteeing the public access to records related to government agencies. Later in the ‘70s, the Sunshine Law was passed, which called for government transparency and allowed for public access to government meetings.

“Sunshine Week focuses on these two laws and the fact that journalists and the public are able to use these tools to find out what is going on in their local communities,” Schumacher said.

She said these laws are important because they help journalists in their watchdog role related to government, and they allow journalists to confirm and gather more information for their stories.

“The First Amendment guarantees a right to a free press, but it doesn’t guarantee any news gathering rights,” she said.

She said Sunshine Week is meant to remind people that they do have power, and these laws allow us to hold people in power accountable.

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