Keep public records public

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By The Staff

Editor's Note: This editorial first appeared in the Casey County News on Wednesday, Jan. 28.

One of the provisions in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that citizens have the right to a free press.

And that means a press unencumbered by the dictates of a local, state or federal government deciding what can be printed or broadcast.

However, one state legislator wants to limit access to 911 recordings because the recordings, in his opinion, are being used by media companies to attract viewers and boost ratings.

Republican Senator John Schickel, of Union, contends in Senate Bill 30 that the 911 service was created to help citizens in their time of need and for broadcasters to replay their calls for help over and over further victimizes the caller.

These charges, according to Gary White, the President of the Kentucky Broadcaster's Association, are fraught with untruth.

In addition, the Kentucky Press Association has added its voice in opposition to anything that would restrict access to these tapes.

KPA Executive Director David Thompson said this is an issue that should be of concern to all citizens.

Although Schickel's bill originally denied media access to the audio of the 911 tape, it called for the media to have an edited version of a written transcript that omitted certain facts such as the identity of callers, medical information and statements that could compromise a criminal investigation.

In response to media objections to this part of the bill, Schickel agreed to modify the bill, allowing reporters and others to listen to the audio recordings.

We agree with White and Thompson - that restricting the public's right to hear a 911 tape would severely limit critical public oversight of emergency dispatchers and law enforcement personnel, thus making it difficult to determine when they performed their duties well and when they didn't.

Anytime anyone, including the media, has a right to restrict information gathered using public tax funds, then who is to say the transcript released is the real deal?

This is a slippery slope that once we start down, begs the question - what's next? Fiscal court meetings held behind closed doors? Law enforcement agencies denying access to crime reports out of a fear that some part of it may be deemed to be too graphic?

Let's continue to conduct the business of government in the open where no shadow of doubt can exist as to what happened and how it happened.