Friday, February 01, 2013

My city just tried to censor a newspaper

The City of Greensboro attempted — and failed — to obtain a temporary restraining order against YES! Weekly on Tuesday evening to stop the distribution of information it says was accidentally given to the paper in public-information requests.  -- Yes!Weekly

GREENSBORO, NC -- Every election season, candidates for Greensboro city council talk about the importance of open and transparent government then, once elected, ignore affronts to openness and transparency.

State public records law defines some types of records as neither public nor confidential, it allows the custodian of those records discretion about whether or not to provide them to the public. When the city defines records as "police intelligence" or as "details of public security plans" in order to claim such discretion which it then exercises to keep records secret, that's not open and transparent.

The City of Greensboro reached new extremes this week though when, through the actions of City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan in consultation with police Chief Ken Miller and Police Attorney Jim Clark, it attempted to exercise that discretion in a failed attempt to convince a judge to censor local newspaper Yes!Weekly.

Attempts at that kind of censorship are suitable for totalitarian dictatorships and we, as citizens of Greensboro, must firmly say, "no, you will not do that on our behalf."

It is time for Greensboro city council to intervene. It is well within the power of City Council to direct city staff to reorient their approach to government information, insisting that discretion fall to the side of openness and transparency. This latest stunt and the subsequent slap down by the judge are warning flags that the city's hunger for secrecy is a danger. It demands action.

Will city council take control or will they twiddle their thumbs? Since Mayor Robbie Perkins reportedly pushed for Shah-Khan's hire, he should take the lead, unless he likes where things are going, of course.


Lex Alexander said...

Funny, and not in a ha-ha way, that this should have happened this week; my media law class just spent the past week covering prior restraint.

The two relevant Supreme Court cases are Near v. Minnesota, from 1931, and New York Times v. United States (the Pentagon Papers case), from 1971. (It's also important to note that the Near case provides protection not only under the 1st Amendment, but also the 14th, which makes the 1st Amendment binding on the states and their political subdivisions, such as the city of Greensboro.

The court, in short, thinks there are three possible cases in which prior restraint could be justified:

* publications that threaten national security in time of war.

* obscene publications.

* publications that threaten to incite violence and/or the use of force to overthrow the government.

Nothing that Yes! wrote fell into any of those categories, and any attorney on the city staff who thought otherwise to the point of actually trying to get a TRO is incompetent and ought to be fired.

Roch Smith, Jr said...

Thank you for bringing that up, Lex. I had not thought to mention prior restraint, but you are right, it proscription is such a fundamental legal concept, one does indeed have to wonder what the city attorney was thinking.

SAL LEONE said...

I will agree with Roch and say the media should not be censored.

The City released the information, so it was free game. The city should be careful on what they release to start with. I think someone set Marikay up and a public and I mean public hearing should start on two issues, the information released and if we have the new NAZI secret police here in Greensboro. I dont get all the spying on freedom of speech.

Billy Jones said...

Another possability: Somebody, an elected official perhaps a Mayor or a well-to-do developer gets wind of Eric's record's request and cooks up a scheme to have his cronies in GPD doctor the records before they are released to discredit Marikay who has fought the Mayor at every turn.

Shah-Khan gets wind of the bone headed plot, realizes the damage it will cause GPD and attempts the only thing he can do knowing full well he will probably loose.

I know, tin foil hats and all but think about it. Records coming from GPD are most likely treated differently than records coming from other city departments and are most likely reviewed by GPD before they are released to other city departments who would then release them to Eric.

Could those records NOT be modified before they were released? Would doing so be impossible? Do we have any way of knowing otherwise?

Accuse me of tin foil hats all you want but none of you have the ways and means to prove me wrong just as I don't have the ways and means to prove myself right.

But my record stands: When it comes to tin foil hats I'm right a lot more than I'm wrong and all of you know it's true.

I think we're talking about 1 or 2 rogue officers on the take and someone willing to pay them-- nothing more.

Roch Smith, Jr said...

Both of you are being stupid.


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