Sunshine Week: It’s your right to know

The theme for Sunshine Week, March 10 - 16, is simple: “It’s Your Right to Know.”
“The reason it’s your right to know is that it’s your government,” said Jim Zachary, vice president, FOI trainer for the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and editor of the Valdosta, Georgia, Daily Times.
Zachary’s viewpoints on government transparency are straightforward:
• From the courthouse, to the statehouse to the White House, it is your right to know what government is up to. Every deliberation by city council, county commission, the General Assembly or U.S. Congress is the people’s business.
• Every penny spent by local, state and federal government is your money.
• Every document held in the halls of government belongs to you.
• Transparency is not, or at least should not be, partisan.
• Access to government meetings and public documents should never be arduous or even controversial.
• Government derives all of its powers from the public and is answerable to the public.
For inspiration in using the observance to remind the public of the importance of government transparency, opinion pieces, editorial cartoons and other materials are available on the Sunshine Week website, www.shineweek.org. 
Sunshine Week 2019 comes at a critical time in Texas. During the 86th Legislative Session, newspapers are urged to support TPA’s lobbying efforts to restore transparency following a series of appeals court rulings that blew huge holes in Texas’ open government laws.
While supporting Sunshine Week, Texas newspapers are also urged to support TPA’s legislative team by keeping in contact with their local elected representatives. Remind them their constituents have the right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

Freedom Forum Institute programs set in Texas during Sunshine Week
Programs on First Amendment freedoms are scheduled during Sunshine Week as part of the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin. 
Freedom Forum Institute and Newseum staff are coming to Austin to participate in discussions and live-streamed interviews with experts in the media, religious liberty and journalism fields.
• Sunday, March 10, at 11 a.m., Sonya Gavankar, director of public relations at the Newseum and Freedom Forum Institute, will lead a meet-up session on “Inclusivity in Media.” 
• Monday, March 11, at 3:30 p.m., Kristen Farrington, executive director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute, will discuss “Effective Religious and Civic Leadership.” She will highlight the First Amendment principles that govern the relationship of religion and government and will define protections for the free exercise of religion. 
• Tuesday, March 12, at 12:30 p.m., Gavankar will be joined by David Hudson, First Amendment fellow at the Freedom Forum Institute, to explore student journalism and the censorship challenges they face in reporting on controversial subjects in school or in the community. 
“Student Journalists: Oasis in Today’s News Deserts” will also contemplate the recent rebirth of student activism and engagement as more young people choose to speak out on cutting-edge issues. This session will also discover how student journalists have filled an information gap in news deserts where local coverage is lost or minimal.