Americans are celebrating Sunshine Week 2020 this week, and the theme “It’s always your right to know” is rooted deeply into the foundation of a government that was established to be of, by and for the people.

Make no mistake about it. From the courthouse to the statehouse to the White House, it is your right to know what government is up to at virtually all times. Any government secrecy that goes beyond national security is fundamentally wrong.

The reason it’s your right to know is that it’s your government. Every deliberation by city council, town board, county board or the U.S. Congress is the people’s business. Every penny spent by local, state and federal government is your money.

So no matter what government meeting you might attend in the future, we encourage you to ask questions and hold elected representatives accountable. You are not minding their business; you are minding your own business.

Every document held in the halls of government belongs to you. When you make a public records request you are not asking local records custodians to give you something that just belongs to them. You are simply asking for your own documents. Government derives all of its powers from the public and is answerable to the public.

Sunshine Week is a national event that puts the spotlight on the importance of transparency in local, state and federal government. The expectation of open government should rest with all citizens, for this is not a privilege that belongs to the media.

It is unfortunate state and federal laws are needed to protect the public’s right to know, but that should tell you just how difficult the battle has become to keep government transparent. Freedom of information laws are more important today than ever before, as the government constantly finds new reasons and new loopholes for withholding information.

Hidden government agendas are another challenge for those who believe in open government, for it is that type of secrecy that leads to unpopular decisions and public distrust in the political system. The right to know is not only an American right, it is fundamentally right.

According to the Brookings Institution, more than 2,000 newspapers across the country ceased publication in the last 15 years or so. The shuttering of newspapers presents a very real and present danger to our most basic freedoms — free speech and freedom of the press.

That’s why communities should support their local newspaper, through subscriptions and advertising, now more than ever before. The media is most definitely not your enemy.

Journalists keep an eye on government, shine the light on its actions, fight the good fight for access to documents and meetings, champion transparency and defend the First Amendment because of a core belief in your basic, fundamental rights — principally, your right to know.

Behind the editorial ‘we’

    Members of the Vilas County News-Review editorial board include Publisher Kurt Krueger, Editor Gary Ridderbusch and reporters Doug Etten and Michelle Drew.