OUR OPINION: Transparency is always the best policy for public officials

Published 4:00 am Friday, April 15, 2022

One of the principles on which our country was founded is freedom of the press, but sometimes, the government organizations the press is charged with covering make our job more difficult than it has to be.

Whether it’s a public notice for a meeting that’s required by law to run in the newspaper, or the identity, charges and bond amounts of an individual charged with a felony in the community, people depend on local news outlets for information.

Bulletins like public notices are an accountability tool. For example, if one wants to learn how their taxpayer dollars are spent in the city or county, that information is routinely printed in the newspaper. If a public hearing is held regarding a nuisance property or something as far-reaching as redistricting, which impacts representation for 10 years, those notices are required by law to be printed in the newspaper.

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Both the city of Vicksburg and Warren County are great when it comes to this. Readers can be sure of that.

But what about the information that’s not required by law to be printed, but is still considered public record?

This category includes matters of public safety, like crime reports, accident reports and grand jury indictments. What happens when such information is left out of local news coverage — or worse, intentionally withheld?

When information is withheld, it creates a false sense of security. You can’t worry about what you can’t read about. If you’re laboring under the illusion that all is well even though that couldn’t be farther from the truth, is that a good ground on which to affect positive change?

Residents deserve to know if their neighborhood has been plagued by break-ins. They deserve to know if a violent offender was arrested near their home or place of business. They deserve to know if that person will remain behind bars or be released back into society.

At the end of the day, the newspaper is obligated to tell the whole truth and ensure local authorities are as transparent as possible. It’s rarely a simple task, but the more we all get along, the easier it is to work together.

Whether we do that the easy way, or the hard way, the truth will be reported.