For immediate release
Kevin Smith, SPJ President, 304-367-4864,
Karen Grabowski, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS - Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists oppose an Ohio bill that, if passed, would prohibit the broadcasting of 911 phone calls. SPJ sent the following letter Dec. 17 to the co-sponsors of the bill, Ohio State Senators Tom Patton and Bill Seitz, on behalf of National President Kevin Smith, National President-Elect Hagit Limor, SPJ Cleveland Pro Chapter President Cliff Anthony, SPJ Central Ohio Pro Chapter President Kevin Kemper and Cincinnati Pro Chapter President James Pilcher:
State and national leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists, which represents more than 8,000 journalists nationwide, urge the withdrawal of SB 105, which would impose a $10,000 fine for broadcasting 911 calls.
This law, if passed, would impede the news media’s ability to effectively cover events that are important to Ohio residents. It is essential that the public have at its disposal a complete picture of how our government is operating. If audio recordings are banned from the public airwaves then it will be virtually impossible for citizens to hear how calls are being handled and effectively hold emergency response centers accountable. The audio nuances of a person’s speech say much more than what can be conveyed through a transcript. The public is entitled to hear for themselves how their tax-funded agencies are responding to emergencies.
The argument that SB 105 is designed to protect people who call in with tips to law enforcement officials is unconvincing. That identifying information would still be available in written transcripts. Also, in the few instances where information that would be legally exempt from disclosure because of a threat to a confidential informant (Ohio Rev. Code 149.43(A)(2)(a), the audio record can be redacted (a name “bleeped” out) just as a paper record can be redacted. The prohibition of broadcasting audio public records is overly broad, unnecessary, and a form of prior restraint.
Ohio courts traditionally have ruled in favor of disclosure of 911 tapes for all to hear for good reason – it ensures the public trust in its institutions regarding the safety and welfare of citizens. These public records should not be banned from the public airwaves.
We urge you to withdraw SB 105 for the sake of transparent governance and public safety in Ohio.
National President, Society of Professional Journalists
Assistant Professor of Journalism, Fairmont State University
National President-Elect, Society of Professional Journalists
Investigative Reporter, WCPO-TV Cincinnati
President, SPJ Cleveland Pro Chapter
Assistant Professor of Journalism, Lorain County Community College
President, SPJ Central Ohio Pro Chapter
Reporter, Columbus Business First
President, Cincinnati Pro Chapter
Business Projects Reporter, The Cincinnati Enquirer