EDITORIAL: We are committed to inform you, the readers, about public business
Our View: Freedom of information can lead to transparency and accountability — if we do our part.
You’ve read about it here before: the Open Records Act, the Open Meeting Act and the importance of transparency. These themes have been highlighted in many of our editorials. But we’ve realized that it’s time to do more than talk.
As you can see from the new feature on the front page, we’re taking on a renewed commitment to use every freedom offered by the state’s Open Records Act to fulfill our role as watchdogs and keep you the public aware of your representatives’ actions.
Open records laws offer essential protections for freedom of information. The Oklahoma Open Records Act requires all public bodies and public officials make their records available for public view and copying.
These records deal with your money, with your positions. You have chosen these officials to represent you. They may seem untouchable, but you put them where they are. You have the power — the responsibility — to watch their actions and hold them accountable.
The average citizen won’t often check a committee’s minutes or a politician’s phone records, but these freedoms allow the press to do it for you and to engage in the reporting that uncovers and stops abuses of power.
This isn’t a hypothetical. In 2010, two journalists from Marshall University’s newspaper, The Parthenon, discovered the campus police department was withholding certain crimes from the publically available police reports, including allegations of a rape in the dormitories.
In 2007, a student reporter from the UCLA student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, used a series of open records requests to uncover a long history of preferential treatment by UCLA’s School of Dentistry in which wealthy donors could pay to ensure their child was accepted.
We’re not saying these kinds of abuses are happening at OU. But they could be. And it’s our role to not only monitor for similar situations, but to let public officials know they will be held accountable for their actions.
This doesn’t mean we don’t like or support Bob Stoops or President David Boren — in fact, we’ve been vocal supporters — but it’s our responsibility to stay on top of their actions, and the actions of all public officials. First and foremost, that is the reason journalism exists in a democracy.
We’ve been quick to point out the occasional glaring Open Meeting Act violation by UOSA. But we haven’t followed up or followed through. We haven’t been holding our public officials accountable in any real way.
So from now on, we’ll be watching. We’ll be filing more requests for access to significant records so we can fulfill our role by give you the information you need to intelligently wield your political power.
And we’ll be keeping a running tally on the front page of our recent requests, why those records are important and how many days have passed since the request was made, to help keep the open records office accountable and openly demonstrate our commitment to this responsibility.
We’ll be doing our best over the next two days — and for the rest of the year — to demonstrate the importance of freedom of information, the limitations of the current law and necessary improvements.
We’ve renewed our commitment to the responsibilities inherent to our role in a democracy. We call on you to do the same.