From March 16 to 20, journalists, lawyers, librarians, archivists, universities, and civil society organizations are reminding the public how vital freedom of information is for maintaining a healthy democracy—and of the essential role whistleblowers play in it.
The American Society of News Editors established Sunshine Week in 2005, taking the name from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ iconic statement that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Sunshine Week encompasses National Freedom of Information Day on March 16, which marks the birthday of President James Madison, a steadfast advocate of open government. Over the course of the week, hundreds of organizations engage the public by holding workshops, publishing editorials, and undertaking other activities to educate people about the importance of open government.
Attacks on transparency are always taking new forms in response to social and political pressures. For example, the FBI just announced it would not accept online requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act because of the coronavirus, without explaining the link between the pandemic and its online processing.
Whistleblowers remain one of our most potent tools for strengthening government accountability and transparency. A recent study found that China could have curtailed the coronavirus outbreak if it hadn’t silenced whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang when he first sounded the alarm last December.
“Whistleblowers play a crucial role in governance, whether by alerting the Chinese government to an impending health crisis or helping the U.S. Congress perform its constitutional oversight role,” said John Kostyack, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center (NWC). “Helping witnesses to wrongdoing blow the whistle and supporting them in their journey is an important contribution to open government,” he said.
NWC is the leading nonprofit in the U.S. dedicated to protecting and rewarding whistleblowers. That title applies to more people than you know: Contrary to popular myths about whistleblowers, many whistleblowers stay anonymous, keep their jobs, and collect substantial rewards for their efforts. Let’s keep this in mind and celebrate whistleblowers this Sunshine Week.