Newspapers work to keep government open

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Industry against chipping away at public’s right to know

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Through its continued print product, digital editions, web pages, social media pushes and even email newsletters, the reach of newspaper outlets has never been greater, despite what you hear about print circulation at large papers.

And it is the American newspaper industry that is working to keep citizens informed of what is going on with their governmental entities, some of which want to hide what is being done with tax dollars.

For instance, the City of McAllen taxpayers can’t find out how much their city paid entertainer Enrique Iglesias to perform at a parade. Citizens in Houston can’t find out how many driver permits have been issued to Uber. And a Kaufman County school district’s food service contract is under wraps, claiming competitive disadvantage.

Most disturbingly, all of these agreements were OK’d by the Texas Supreme Court. One Texas lawmaker called it a “monstrous loophole” in public records law. These lawmakers, in the upcoming 85th Legislature, will hopefully right a too broad interpretation of the court’s ruling that is letting local government entities zip up what should be public files.

Citizens’ right to know what is being done with their funds is constantly under attack from ill-informed bureaucrats. Today, how our tax dollars are being spent is being viewed as secondary to private business interests.

In June 2015, Texas Supreme Court justices ruled for Attorney General Ken Paxton to block the release of certain information in a lease between Boeing and the Port Authority of San Antonio. The business took the case to court because the information could tip off competitors about its practices. Since then, businesses have used that case as a precedent, taken the ball and run with it.

The newspaper industry and its partners at the Freedom of Information Foundation have fought these rulings that leave taxpayers in the dark. And it will continue to do so.

This is National Newspaper Week, with a theme of “Your Way to Know.” This underscores the newspaper media’s role as the leading provider of news in print, online or on our smart phones.

This week, we hope to raise awareness so the public will place a premium on the free flow of information and help roll back rulings that keep it in the dark about decisions that affect pocketbooks.

Though the delivery method of the newspaper industry is changing, the work that dedicated reporters and editors continue to perform is a public service and in the public interest. And that won’t change. – Ken Esten Cooke