Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

Newspapers should advocate for government accountabiity while empowering citizens

In Advocacy on June 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Elected officials should never be surprised or irritated when citizens question their judgment, their words or their decisions.

Citizens have every right. It is their government.

They have every right to question everything government does, whether elected officials like it or not.

Government belongs to the governed, not to the governing.

Ours is a representative form of government.

In fact, it is this distinctive nature of our constitutional republic that distinguishes us as a nation and provides for a more open and free society.

Frankly, when officials react as if they are above being questioned, then they have simply gotten too big for their britches.

When elected officials  summarily dismiss the concerns of citizens, roll their eyes and effectively thumb their noses at the people they are elected to serve, they have become a disservice to the public and an enemy of the very principles of a representative form of government.

It is absolutely impossible to please all the people all the time.

That is true, of course, because all people do not always agree on all things.
That is why we elect representatives.

However, to totally disregard the electorate, even if those speaking are outspoken, is poor governing.

Furthermore, to lash out at the media for covering the concerns of citizens is a telltale sign that those elected officials somehow believe they are above public censure, beyond being questioned and believe they do not have to answer to anyone.

Any newspaper that represents the interests of the governing, more than the interests of the governed, is not worth the paper it is printed on or the ink that fills its pages.

Newspapers may not always agree with outspoken citizens or defend what they say, but they should defend with all their might, all  their ink and all their paper the right to say it — even in open public meetings.

Irish statesman and author Edmund Burke (1729-1797), according to historian Thomas Carlyle, said there were “three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all” (Heroes and Hero Worship in History, 1841).

Though in many places reporters may have reduced themselves to simply being a mouthpiece for local government reporting what officials want them to report and hiding what they don’t, a community and a democracy is best served when the newspaper provides a forum for checks and balances as the Fourth Estate of government.

All local government officials  should realize that the seats of local government are not their kingdom and the citizens are not their subjects.
In fact, elected officials are working for and being paid by the very citizens they too often disregard.

When the elected merely dismiss the concerns of those who elect them, it demonstrates a lack of leadership and a failure to comprehend the most basic concepts of a representative form of government.

The money a county commission or city council is spending is not their money.
It is the public’s money and citizens have every right to know how their money is being spent.

In fact, they have every right to have a say in how their money is being spent.

Those who are elected to office are not merely elected to represent the people who agree with them. They are elected to represent the interests of the entire electorate and that cannot be done if they do not at least listen to and respect everyone, those with whom they agree and those with whom they disagree.

We hope Tennessee newspapers will take their role as the Fourth Estate seriously and will continue to report and comment in ways that hold government in check.

We commend citizens for questioning their local government.

Burke also said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

By James Zachary

Tennessee Transparency Project