Freedom of Information
I’m not writing about COVID-19 (aka the novel coronavirus) today. That’s not because I don’t believe it’s important, but because a great deal of this newspaper is already related to that topic, and frankly I don’t feel as if I have any special wisdom to impart. The best I can say is, follow the advice of medical professionals and do not take this situation lightly.
The good news in all this is that the world will keep spinning and I’m optimistic that at some point everything will return to normal.
When that happens, everyone — including journalists — will breathe a sigh of relief. And we’ll get back to covering more familiar topics, like local government.
One of the most valuable tools that we have in keeping up with what’s going on in that local government, of course, is the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. We are blessed that our state has one of the strongest laws in the country in regard to public information — even if there are no practical penalties for public officials who decide to violate it, as we’ve seen recently on the western side of Carroll County.
The FOIA isn’t just a tool for journalists, by the way. It’s a resource for any citizen who’s interested in where and how our tax money is being spent.
There are some public officials, sadly, who would prefer that the people not be privy to such information. Every time the Arkansas Legislature goes into session, the Arkansas Press Association keeps a close eye on bills that would weaken the FOIA. So far, most attempts to do that have failed.
One area that has come under fire before, and likely will again, is the requirement that public notices be published in a newspaper of general circulation. That requirement ensures public transparency, and it needs to remain in place.
This week is Sunshine Week for the APA, which distributes columns, house ads and other materials to promote the FOIA.
One of those house ads sums it up perfectly. “It’s always your right to know what’s happening in Arkansas government,” the ad reads. “We believe all business the government does, whether in open public meetings, or behind closed doors, is YOUR business.”