Newspapers play an important role in the community

Published 11:10 am Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Our View

This week, Oct. 2-8, is National Newspaper Week, a time to celebrate and reflect on the role newspapers have played in their community through the ages.
Over the years, the way the world has gotten its news has changed. From the time of the town criers shouting the news in the courthouse square all the way through to the digital age where many community members find their news online or through their smart phones one thing has not changed — the public’s desire and need to be informed.
Thomas Jefferson once said “Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”
Jefferson looked to newspapers to bridge the gap between citizens and their government and to keep the citizens informed of what their government was doing. He believed a nation that practices self-government is dependent on an enlightened and educated citizenry and therefore a press that is free to investigate and criticize the government was absolutely essential.
Since the founding of our country, many laws have been enacted that not only protect the freedom of the press but also dictating how government is to conduct its business so that citizens may remain informed.
With the passing of the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution protects the freedom of the press through the First Amendment.
In addition to federal protections, many states have also enacted constitutional protections and laws relating to a free press and the conducting of government business.
Here in Tennessee, the state legislature also saw the need and benefit in such protections. The Tennessee Code Annotated, in Title 8, Chapter 44, Part 1 states the following: “The general assembly hereby declares it to be the policy of this state that the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”
Those words are the opening statement to the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, more commonly known as the “Sunshine Law.” The Act underscores the idea that Tennesseans have a legal presumption of open government in their Constitution and separate laws related to open meetings and public records.
While state law provides that meetings shall be open, public business shall be conducted in a public forum, and public records shall remain available to the public for inspection, that is not always the case. Some violations of the Sunshine Law are inadvertent, made by public officials who do not fully understand the law and its requirements. Others are deliberate and are designed to keep the public in the dark about an issue. Whatever the case, the burden of enforcing the letter, intent, and spirit of all three often falls onto the shoulders of the press and the public.
Over the years, the Elizabethton Star has worked hard to ensure our community is informed about the actions and business of local government. We have called into question decisions that have been made and filed complaints with the state when we felt open meetings and records laws have been violated. We take our job of keeping you informed very seriously and we are dedicated to our community. Thank you for letting us be your newspaper and allowing us to tell your stories.

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