Our viewpoint: Sunshine laws aren’t just for media

The great jurist Louis Brandeis once declared, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

And what did the sunlight cleanse? According to the late U.S. Supreme Court justice, appointed to the high court in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, sunlight purges government of secrecy and potentially nefarious behavior that could act against the public interest.

Thus, in this week — dubbed Sunshine Week by a number of leading media organizations — it is good to appreciate the wise justice's admonition on behalf of citizens who need to guard against government officials who might want to withhold valuable public information from — that's right — the public itself.

Sunshine Week isn't just about — or for — the media. It's about all of us who care about government's responsibility to those who pay the bills that allow the government to operate. It's our business that government officials are performing and we need access to what it does every single day. The media simply act as the public's eyes and ears on our behalf.

Sunshine Week is the product of good work being done by the likes of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Other media groups have joined in as well, furthering the cause of government openness and, yes, sunlight.

New Mexico is blessed with an aggressive and proactive organization, the Foundation for Open Government, which examines routinely complaints brought against government by those who believe they've been shut out of the public's affairs without sufficient justification.

For example, FOG recently helped secure a New Mexico court ruling that held the view that emails and other correspondence sent between and among public officials should be open for public inspection.

Albuquerque-based FOG is a friend of the public, which is well-served by the organization's insistence that government always err on the side of openness whenever and wherever appropriate.

There are some things that government can exempt from public view. They involve personnel matters, pending litigation and transactions involving the sale or purchase of public property. Everything else, however, is open to the public and must remain that way.

Sunshine Week calls attention to the value of shining sunlight on government and to ensuring that government conducts the public's business in the only venue that matters to those who are paying for it. That always should be in full public view.

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