Originally, this opinion piece was supposed to be written about the benefits of the Freedom of Information Act, but with recent events, I thought I should write a few words about COVID-19. First, I would like to thank the professional caregivers and medical staff tending to the public’s needs. These folks are on the front lines, working overtime to tend to those who need it the most.
Additionally, for those suffering or whose job is impacted, state and local government, along with the private sector, are working closely to ensure we contain the spread of this virus and meet the needs of those affected. With that, here are some thoughts on government transparency.
“Liberty cannot be preserved with a general knowledge among the people, who have a right… and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.” Wise words from President Andrew Johnson in 1765 that still bear truth in our 21st century republic.
This week we commemorate “Sunshine Week” to celebrate Americans’ access to public information. With a system of government created by and for the people, America has always been a nation where citizens enjoy access to information about how their government operates. While access to public information is important for many reasons, allowing citizens to determine whether their elected officials are serving in accordance with their wishes is perhaps the most important. Public access to information empowers every American to make informed decisions on who best represents their values and vision.
In today’s society the dissemination of this information is more vital now than ever before.
The people’s trust in government and its institutions is relative to how informed the electorate is at any given time. With widespread information available on the internet, the role of traditional media and trained journalists becomes even more important. Without print and online publications, you cannot have an effective democracy; it is one of the safeguards to a modern free society.
That is why it is imperative that we continue to protect the 1st Amendment – to ensure the continuation of free speech and press, without which we would have no basis for individual thought or freedom.
The press, too, has an obligation to publish accurate information so that general public can hold their elected officials accountable.
By shining a light on government operations, the public can accurately assess their government’s performance, see how their government is spending public money, and act upon that information accordingly. As President Johnson reminds us, the right of expression is implicit in the unalienable right to know the character and conduct of our leaders.
Representative Clardy is currently serving his fourth term as the State Representative for House District 11, which includes Cherokee, Nacogdoches, and Rusk Counties.