This week — March 14-20 — marks the annual event known as “Sunshine Week,” a celebration of open government and a time to reflect on what it means to our way of life, both in Washington state and in the U.S.
The COVID-19 pandemic has tested us all in ways we never imagined. And while its long-term societal impacts probably won’t be known for some time, in the short term it has substantially eroded our trust in our cornerstone institutions, including government. Trust in government and the media are at all-time lows.
This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer provides a snapshot of just how fragile that trust has become, confirming that people don’t know where or who to turn to for reliable information. According to the report, a majority of respondents believe that government leaders (57%), business leaders (56%) and journalists (59%) are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded this distrust, removing the ability to access or interact with local and state government through public meetings. This has created what Edelman calls an “infodemic,” further eroding confidence in all information sources, including mainstream and social media.
So the question becomes, how do we build back that trust?
By giving the public a front-row seat to the proceedings.
Enter TVW, a nonpartisan TV and streaming network dedicated to coverage of all three branches of state government, has continued to shine a light on government proceedings during this unprecedented time. In fact, TVW has been a leader in providing this kind of access for more than 25 years, giving Washingtonians a front-row view of the legislative session, state Supreme Court hearings and other agency meetings and hearings.
TVW allows viewers to hear directly from decision makers — without filter, bias or commentary — as they work through a variety of challenging issues. That access to primary news sources allows viewers to hear the debate, ponder the issues, and make up their own minds about the efficacy of government, public schools, health care solutions and more.
During the pandemic, TVW has continued to provide that same exceptional access to the public, from the governor’s daily news conferences to health briefings from the Department of Health and now to the 2021 Legislature and its all-remote legislative session.
With COVID-19, the challenge is even steeper with an all-remote Legislature and no in-person meetings or public engagement, jeopardizing the very idea of “public” meetings. Now, more than ever before, people are turning to TVW for public access to government proceedings — so that the public can watch and decide for themselves.
Case in point: TVW offers the only access available to the Legislature this session. This includes all legislative committee hearings, floor action and press availabilities for the House, Senate, Democrats, Republicans and the governor. The full winter docket for the Washington State Supreme Court is also available, as well as arguments before Washington’s three courts of appeals, as is archived video content from previous year’s legislative sessions, Supreme Court sessions, state agencies and more.
By providing the public with unfiltered access to government proceedings, TVW works to ensure all Washingtonians, regardless of the pandemic, can monitor and lay witness to state government.
Another key part of building back trust: Education.
Beyond providing access to state government proceedings, TVW is committed to helping people understand more about the entire civic engagement process. That’s why TVW also works closely with educators to help increase students’ understanding of civics and state government.
Teach with TVW is a free resource for teachers that provides resources and instruction to help students understand how their state government works. Education modules and experiential learning opportunities like “Capitol Classroom” and “Connects” offer hands-on civics lessons that teach students how to participate directly in the state legislative process. Only by engaging the next generation of citizens can we hope to build back our collective trust in government.
Restoring trust in any relationship always takes time — but we have the tools to do it. Sunshine Week is just one week in the year dedicated to highlighting the importance of open government. TVW is committed to celebrating that same sunshine all year long.