Transparency is the key to a healthy democracy
Last updated 3/8/2023 at 5:12pm | View PDF
On Tuesday it was reported that thousands of protesters in the nation of Georgia had clashed with police in the streets of the capital Tbilisi. It was the second day of demonstrations, with the police resorting to water cannon and pepper spray in response.
The cause of the unrest? A parliament-backed draft law which critics say will limit press freedom and civil liberties. The bill would require non-governmental and media organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to declare themselves as “foreign agents” or face hefty fines and possible imprisonment.
If such troubling tactics seem familiar, that may be because in this space just a year ago we told of how the Russian government had enacted new laws to repress internal opposition to its military invasion of Ukraine, including criminalizing independent war reporting. As a result, news organizations such as the BBC, CNN and the New York Times suspended their operations in Russia out of fear of being arrested and imprisoned.
“These new laws are part of Russia’s ruthless effort to suppress all dissent and make sure the population does not have access to any information that contradicts the Kremlin’s narrative about the invasion of Ukraine,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted.
Now Georgia, a former Soviet republic that had become a fledgling democracy, seems to be backsliding into its authoritarian past as opponents of the measure, domestically and internationally, say it resembles a Russian-style crackdown. The word “agent” is a synonym for spy in that part of the world.
If you’ve ever filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain information from a governmental body or attended a board meeting after seeing a public notice posted in advance, give thanks to “sunshine” laws.
Statutes like the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act are taken for granted today but were actually not part of our societal ethos until the second half of the last century, even in our mature democracy. Getting access to meetings and materials for taxpayer-supported boards before then was often at the whim of officials.
March 12-18 is Sunshine Week, when we celebrate the progress we’ve made in promoting open government.
Sunshine Week was launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors — now News Leaders Association — and has grown into an enduring initiative. The News Leaders Association has partnered with The Society of Professional Journalists to host the annual nationwide observance of access to public information and what it means for our community. The primary takeaway: government transparency improves our lives and makes our communities stronger.
How can you participate? Write a letter to the editor or share this commentary (available digitally on our website) through social media. As journalists, “we aim to shine light into the dark recesses of government secrecy” as articulated at http://www.sunshineweek.org.
So shine on — it’s your right to know.