LANSING, Mich. – It’s amazing how elected leaders can be so ignorant of the U.S. Constitution and the fundamental ideals behind the First Amendment.
But at least one official was willing to admit she was a bonehead and correct her error before it was too late.
It seems that some Michigan lawmakers want to prevent lawyers from using the state’s Freedom of Information Act to scour police accident records for potential clients.
So one of them crafted a bill that would have limited access to accident records to journalists. But then she went a step further, trying to define the meaning of “journalist.”
“An uproar quickly followed,” reported Michigan Capitol Confidential.
We would certainly hope so.
Government defining the term “journalist” is one small step away from government licensing journalists. That means reporters would be forced to please the government to maintain their ability to work, and would naturally be hesitant to write anything critical about the government.
At that point the media would be a captive of government and we would no longer be a free people.
“After the committee hearing I realized that I had been going about it in the wrong way,” said State Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton. “I started to realize we were dealing with a very profound issue that would have serious ramifications. So I went back to the drawing board.”
It’s a good thing Lipton woke up at the last minute and understood (as she should have in the third grade) that a free and aggressive media is absolutely necessary for a free society to function properly. The media must be the watchdog of the government, not the other way around.
But we’re still not sure Lipton is on solid ground with her revised bill, which would prevent anyone from using information gathered from a public accident report to solicit individuals involved in an accident for at least 30 days.
That regulation, of course, targets ambulance chasing attorneys looking for lawsuits.
But attorneys, as slimy as some can be, should have as much right to view public documents as reporters, or anyone else, for that matter. What they do with the information – and when they do it – should be their business.
Public information is public information. It’s important for the government to make it available to the public, then get out of the way.
By Steve Gunn at EAGnews.org