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The importance of transparency

Most of us prefer sunshine. It’s rare to hear someone say, “That was a nice, cloudy day.” We’re invigorated by a glorious sunrise and spend hours outdoors on brilliantly sunny days. As John Denver so succinctly sang, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.”

In journalism, the reference to sunshine takes on an equally important meaning. Each year in March, news media organizations across the country celebrate Sunshine Week. We take this time to highlight the importance of transparency in our government, and we underscore the vital work our journalists do to fight for access to records that shed light on government activity.

The Sunshine Act and the Right to Know Law are Pennsylvania’s primary public access laws. These laws guarantee the public’s right to access government information at public meetings and through public records. Open access to meetings and records is fundamental to the public’s ability to understand government actions and hold officials accountable.

Access to public information is essential for journalists to accurately report about what your elected officials are doing and how it will impact your life. Otherwise, you will not be informed about the decisions made by your local government, and you will be kept in the dark.

As we celebrate Sunshine Week, on behalf of newspapers across the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association will continue to advocate for more access to essential information from all levels of government. We are advocating for three key transparency issues. One, for public agencies to record executive sessions. Two, for requiring agencies to provide agendas in advance of meetings so the public can attend and participate in issues that matter to them. Three, for keeping public notices in newspapers, so you know what’s going on in your community and have a chance to participate in a decision before it’s made.

Much like how sunlight has a healthy and positive effect on our lives, the sunshine that journalists provide has the same crucial and beneficial impact on good governance. As we commemorate this Sunshine Week, we urge you to reflect on the vital impact your local journalists have on you and your community, and we encourage you to remind your elected officials about the importance of transparency. This way, the sun will continue to shine and keep all of us happy.

Brad Simpson is president of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

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