10/28/06 — Vote for access: Choose judges who understand public’s right to know

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Vote for access: Choose judges who understand public’s right to know

You might wonder why you should care about your newspaper’s ability to access records about the dealings of your government and other public entities.

After all, that’s our job to dig up secret information that public officials would rather we wouldn’t find, right?

And if you made the argument that press access is the media’s concern, you would be right, it is. Newspapers across the state fight every day — sometimes at great cost — to get information out of reluctant public officials. Sometimes they win and sometimes they lose, but they still try.

Getting information is a newspaper’s business. We fight for access not just to protect the public’s right to know, but also to maintain the integrity of our own publications. We cannot possibly keep our communities up to date on the activities of their government leaders and others without access to the facts — all the facts, not just those public officials want to share with us.

And as they have for generations, some public officials are still in no hurry to share the whole story with their hometown newspaper, let alone their constituents.

No news or publicity is still good news in their books.

Convincing them otherwise takes more than a skillful reporter with charm and personality. It takes strong laws and even stronger advocates for open records in addition to stricter rules about what information has a “right” to confidentiality and what belongs to the people and its appointed watchdogs.

Unfortunately, in North Carolina, the laws that support our fight to keep the public’s right to know unfettered by politics, politicians and courts are weak. Every day more roadblocks get in the way of providing the real story to the people about what their elected representatives, public agencies and others are doing and spending. Getting access to the facts often takes a risky and expensive court fight.

As you review the choices for judges this election season, keep a close eye out for those who have a strong record of fighting for the public’s right to know. A judge should be evaluated not on his resume and family photo, but on his or her decision-making record. Look up his or her recent stands on issues that matter to you and make sure a candidate’s rulings match up with what you want to see coming out of your Supreme Court or Court of Appeals.

Keeping information flowing and access as open as possible is not just good for newspapers. By sending the message that there are lots of eyes watching, we keep our representatives honest — even the ones who would rather keep quiet than talk about a slip-up or boondoggle.

We will stay on their tails, but we need your help, too. Help us keep information flowing in North Carolina by putting judges in courts who have the same goal.

Published in Editorials on October 28, 2006 8:58 PM