Monday, March 13, 2006

Why an independent press is important

If you ever want an example of why we should not allow the government to regulate the press, here's one.

Douglas County Coordinator Bill Schalow last Monday sent an eight-point protocol to Echo Press reporter Erin Klegstad, requesting that she submit stories to his office for accuracy checks and go through the office to set up interviews.

"If you willfully ignore this request," it concluded, "or fail to cooperate and comply without contacting me first regarding your concerns, your actions could result in a total system 'gag' and limit your interaction with the county to the coordinator's office only."

Klegstad - who had to call Schalow to find out if he was serious (he said he was) - showed the e-mail to Al Edenloff, the paper's editor.

"I was shocked," Edenloff said. "I thought it was the most ridiculous document I'd ever read. ... We do not need our stories to be pre-authorized, prearranged or sanitized. We're the watchdogs, not them."

The Minnesota Newspaper Association's attorney, Mark Anfinson, said the protocol seemed to violate not only the First Amendment but also the state's open records law.

"This is something you would have expected to see behind the Iron Curtain," Anfinson said. "I told (Edenloff) that the best remedy for this would be a story, that it wouldn't stand the light of day."

That's what happened. When the news broke, the public was infuriated, and some county leaders who hadn't seen the policy said they didn't support it. Schalow quickly backed off.

Irritated as we can sometimes get about perceived excesses by an out-of-control press, the alternative is worse. It's quite refreshing that the citizens of Douglas County not only recognize that, but felt it was important enough to do something about it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Schalow seems to have been quite shallow on this one!
- Caracarn

3/14/2006 2:31 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I thought that same pun, but had the self-control to avoid writing it. :)

3/14/2006 6:00 PM  

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