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Some gathering of clouds during Sunshine Week

Posted: March 16, 2008 11:29 p.m.
Updated: May 17, 2008 5:02 a.m.
"Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."
- First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

It would seem appropriate that Sunshine Week arrives as our newsroom wraps up a week of looking into why our mayor is not disclosing financial information.

Spearheaded by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Sunshine Week started in 2005 as a way to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy.

It's about freedom of information, and the preservation thereof.

A total of 33 states and the District of Columbia have passed media shield statutes - so-called "sunshine laws" - while 16 others have judicial precedents protecting journalists.

It goes hand in hand with the federal Freedom of Information Act signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966.

Questions have been raised recently about why Mayor Bob Kellar has not disclosed real estate earnings on forms submitted to the state.

Rather than leave the matter in the shaky hands of the court of public opinion, we believe it is our responsibility to ask questions, track down the facts, and report the truth.

We live in fascinating times. Over the last several years, the Internet - and communication technology as a whole - has revolutionized the spread of information.

Journalists now truly work in a global marketplace, where a story written at a desk on Creekside Road in Valencia can be read on the Web in Sudan.

We are blessed to live in a nation that still has a free press; where reporters can work free of government control; where people, in general, can feel safe talking openly to the media.

However, there have been some gathering clouds of late.

More and more American journalists are getting slapped with subpoenas demanding they reveal their sources. By threatening journalists with harsh fines or jail time, judges are threatening to betray the confidence of those who felt safe being quoted "on condition of anonymity."

It was confidential sources who enabled reporters to bring to light secret CIA prisons, warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens' phones, and some sort of controversy involving President Richard Nixon.
All this, while the current presidential administration has opposed a federal shield law for journalists.

If we do not have an assurance of freedom from fear; if our sources stop talking to us out of fear of retribution; then the "free press" will soon become a lesser version of itself.

Globally, the former Soviet Union is apparently beginning to wax nostalgic, with the government there cracking down on journalists.

In the Middle East, reporters have been imprisoned and faced the death penalty for their commitment to reporting the facts.

As the Web has evolved, the line between journalist and blogger has at times become blurry.

As American attention spans seemingly become shorter, "news" is increasingly more sensationalized - and more truncated, unable to adequately explore complex issues.

Doom and gloom surrounds the newspaper business. In California alone, during the last several weeks, massive cutbacks, buyouts and downsizings have swept like a flash flood through newsrooms.

But all hope is not lost.

We believe the desire for truth will never be snuffed out.

We believe it is incumbent upon those of us entrusted with this position to seek the truth at all costs, and deliver it to you.

Despite the clouds, the sun is still shining.

Knowledge is power.

We believe you should be a people empowered.


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