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Sunshine Week

Starting today and continuing through Saturday, The Citizen's opinion page will be featuring commentary related to the open importance of government transparency. It's one way we try to bring attention to the advocacy and public education campaign known as Sunshine Week.

Journalism organizations are involved in organizing Sunshine Week promotions and events, and news media are always among the most vocal participants in this annual effort.

But it's important for the public to know that Sunshine Week's chief purpose is not to talk about the value of journalism. The goal is to help the public understand that in the United States, it has the right to know what its government is doing at all levels. That concept of openness and accessibility is a foundational principle of our representative democracy.

Journalists, including those who work at The Citizen, frequent use laws such as New York's Freedom of Information Law and Open Meets Law, or the federal Freedom of Information Act, to request and secure information that government officials may not necessarily want citizens to see. These efforts by the news media are ultimately made on behalf of the public, because that's a crucial role journalists play: representing the public at government meetings and court proceedings and gathering records that should be accessible to every citizen. Being that voice of the public is one of the main reasons the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of the press.

Sunshine Week helps bring attention to this public representative role of the news media, but it also aims to help every American understand that we all have these same rights to access government information and proceedings. FOIL, FOIA and open government meetings are available to everyone. Don't let any public official tell you that only a journalist can make a record request or attend a meeting. And learn about the tools and processes at your disposal.

For starters, we'll bring your attention to the website sunshineweek.org, and the account @sunshineweek on Twitter. Check out and immerse yourself in all that journalists are doing to get information you might want to see, but also ways you can get it for yourself.

In New York, a terrific tool is the New York Committee on Open Government site (dos.ny.gov/coog). At the national level, check out the federal Office of Information Policy's Freedom of Information act website at  foia.gov.

The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Rob Forcey, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

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