Open government is important next week and all weeks

By: 
Wade Young, wade@montgomerymnnews.com

As journalists, we rely on open government and freedom of information principles to keep the public informed about its government. Sometimes, we are met with roadblocks.
Sunshine Week, which is spearheaded by the News Leaders Association, champions open and transparent government at all levels. That means from the local school board or city council meetings, to the emails a state representative sent that supports a bill, all the way up to the President at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C.
A massive country 4,872 miles from here could use some “sunshine.” While the world watches as Russia invades Ukraine, some media in Russia are disappearing. According to RIA Novosti - a Russian State-owned news agency - last week the number of independent media voices Russians can read and watch dropped quickly when authorities restricted access to news publications like BBC Russia, Radio Liberty and Latvia-based Meduza.
The media outlets were added to a list of publications "containing appeals for mass riots, extremism, and participation in illegal mass rallies," according to the state news agency.
It was Russia’s attempt to control the narrative of what they’re doing to their neighbors to the west.
Russians want more information about the war and have turned to foreign media. According to the BBC, weekly visits to its Russian-language website had more than tripled to 10.7 million. Traffic from Russia to the BBC's English-language site had soared 252 percent.
Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that here. We have the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Still, sometimes we face roadblocks in the attempt to cover and gather the news. That’s why we have Sunshine Week. It was launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors, now the News Leaders Association to raise our collective voice for transparency and access to public information.
Remember, open government isn't just for the media.
The government's business is your business. The public deserves to know how its government operates, how its elected representatives vote, how its tax dollars are spent.
The public should also have this information readily available, whether in digital or the old-fashioned paper format.
So how can you commemorate Sunshine Week?
Get involved.
• Write your elected officials. You can find their contact information -- emails and old-fashioned mailing addresses online or in the phone book.
• Talk to your elected officials: school board and city council members, county commissioners. Ask them what projects they’re working on and how much it’s going to cost.
• Go to the courthouse or city hall and peruse records. All sorts of documents are open for inspection: court filings, real estate transactions, deeds, business permits, alcohol licenses, etc.
• Attend a city council, school or county board meeting. While you're there, ask a question during the public comment part of the meetings. Be aware that some organizations may require you to fill out a request to address the board or council before the meeting.
Open government is a crucial part of our lives. We should fight for it, and support the organizations that keep an eye on our powerful elected officials.

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