The celebration of Sunshine Week will be more challenging than ever. It also will present great opportunities to show the significance of this national initiative established in 2005 to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy.
Sunshine Week runs March 15 - 21 to encompass National Freedom of Information Day, coinciding with James Madison's birthday on March 16. As the fourth president of the United States of America (1809-1817), Madison is known as the “Father of the Constitution” and as the foremost advocate for openness in government.
To paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, sunlight is said to be the “best of disinfectants.” Amid the world chaos caused by the novel coronavirus, that statement rings even more true today. As NPPA members we are reminded to use that light to meaningfully illuminate matters of public interest by promoting the highest standards of visual journalism, acknowledging concern for every person's need both to be fully informed about public events and to be recognized as part of the world in which we live.
At a time when so many meetings and gatherings are being canceled or postponed and people are being told to work from home, it is particularly challenging for visual journalists who cannot do so by the very nature of their work. Visual journalists are being tasked with covering newsworthy (and often risky) events, or losing the ability to earn a living because so many clients are drastically reducing assignments, or an even more detrimental combination of both. But the COVID-19 crisis also presents an opportunity to regain public trust by demonstrating the importance of fearless, thorough, accurate and ethical journalism.
The NPPA Code of Ethics states: “Visual journalists operate as trustees of the public. Our primary role is to report visually on the significant events and varied viewpoints in our common world. Our primary goal is the faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand. As visual journalists, we have the responsibility to document society and to preserve its history through images.” It is now even more imperative to adhere to those ethics where “photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspire hope and connect people around the globe through the language of visual understanding.”
While many of the events planned for Sunshine Week are being canceled to help prevent the spread of the virus, we must strive to safely do our best work, despite the many hardships and dangers to our health and livelihoods. By doing this we will help reinforce freedom of information as an absolute principle without which far too many countries and government leaders would have kept news about this pandemic under wraps.
It is only through our actions and constant vigilance that the press remains free to shine its light on matters of public concern. By keeping government information open and pushing back against excessive official secrecy, we show that this is who we are.
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) is a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of photojournalism in its creation, editing and distribution. NPPA’s members include television and still photographers, editors, students and representatives of businesses that serve the visual journalism community. Since its founding in 1946, the NPPA has been the Voice of Visual Journalists, vigorously promoting the constitutional rights of journalists as well as freedom of the press in all its forms, especially as it relates to visual journalism.
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