Virginia Professional Communicators

Preserve American Rights to Open Meetings and Records

By Marisa Porto

American writer Walter Lippman once wrote, “The best servants of the people, like the best valets, must whisper unpleasant truths in the master’s ear.”

His quote describes perfectly the mission of a newspaper and its staff.

That mission remains at the heart of why Americans should be concerned about the state of the Freedom of Information Act around this nation.

Almost daily I hear the cry of “fake news” from subscribers who have read stories they didn’t like. It’s tough to address when you are editor and publisher of a local news organization. Why? Because these conversations are no longer based on fact but on belief, and arguing belief, in my opinion, is generally a losing battle.

Today it’s becoming routine for politicians and other government officials to deny public records requests and close more public meetings as a way around having to vet ideas outside the public eye. As a member of the Virginia FOIA advisory council, I’ve heard a number of stories about this from around the state.

When these kinds of incidents occur, the victim is not just us but everyone. Because when we can’t report, the public is denied its right to know how the government conducts its business. That’s why it matters today and every day that every American – not just journalists – works to preserve the right to open meetings and records so we can know what choices are being made in our name.

Read more about the Freedom of Information Act and current and pending legal rulings on theVirginia Coalition for Open Government website.