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Living in the Sunshine

There's a reason roaches thrive in the darkness and run from sunlight.

This week, newspapers across America are celebrating Sunshine Week, an effort to educate people about an important subject: the public's right to know.

I've spent most of my career covering some form of government - from the administration at Augusta College (yes, back before it was Augusta State University) to the commission chambers in Columbia County to the various governing bodies in McDuffie County. Over the years, I've seen one constant: Folks always seem to think I have more access to government than Joe Public.

That's just not true.

We all play by the same rules - the Sunshine laws.

The public's right to know is set forth in each state's Freedom of Information - or Sunshine - laws. In a nutshell, those guidelines detail the public's right to view various government documents, attend government meetings and take an active role in the political system of checks and balances.

For the general public, it's an awesome responsibility. The Sunshine laws demand political activity beyond the voting booth: Government that is not monitored is government ran amok. If the public allows the Sunshine laws to stagnate, it's our society that will sour.

And I firmly believe that - just as our leaders have a responsibility to maintain an open government and the public has a responsibility to monitor that government - journalists have responsibilities too.

We have a responsibility to our communities, whether we work for newspapers, radio or television.

We have a job to do, but that does not absolve us from doing what's right.

We have a responsibility to report both sides of every story.

We have a responsibility to report those stories accurately.

And we have a responsibility to treat each story with dignity and respect.

But too often, agendas override fairness, and sensationalism overrides dignity.

If we expect the people we cover to uphold their end of the bargain, we've got to be willing to do our part too.

After all, that's only fair.

For more information about Sunshine Week, please visit

Web posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007

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