Jeffrey D. Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. If you're an elected official, political operative or anyone else upset at his views, don't go bothering LSUS or LSU System officials about that because these are his own views solely.
This publishes Sunday through Thursday with the exception of 7 holidays. Also check out his Louisiana Legislature Log especially during legislative sessions (in "Louisiana Politics Blog Roll" below).
In an era where traditional media in general and newspapers in particular are suffering significant declines in revenues as a result of increasing public skepticism and technological changes, it’s understandable that they wish to preserve income sources as much as possible. But it’s disappointing when they try to do so by making false and conceited claims about legal changes to save taxpayers money that, rather than thwarting their somehow being indispensible guardians of freedom, instead denies them corporate welfare.
This bad tendency flared this week courtesy of hearings on HB 131 by state Rep. Bodi White and an editorial printed in the normally-sensible Alexandria Town Talk. White’s bill would remove the mandate that government publish names of jurors in newspapers; the editorial addressed HB 1212 by Rep. Jeff Arnold that would remove the requirement that the state and local governing authorities must have their official journals of business conducted printed only in a newspaper.
On HB 131, the Louisiana Press Association bleated that this would erode the “public’s right to know.” Presently, clerks of court in most instances have names of jurors available for public inspection and this list is given to a newspaper which then is paid for printing it. White’s, as well as the Louisiana Law Institute’s concern is that it increases the chances of parties attached to a defendant to discover names and then try to intimidate jurors.
The LPA claims this would damage the idea of a defendant being judged by peers, if the peers’ names are not distributed in a public forum. But this is an entirely spurious complaint as, except in those cases where good cause can be found for having an anonymous jury, the list is public – all anybody has to do is make a trip to the clerk of court in the respective district to get it. Nor does the bill prohibit the media from getting the list and publishing it on their own.
Arnold’s bill is modeled after a pair from two years ago but not does go as far. Under it, either a newspaper or an official government-run website must publish a journal, minutes, or whatever relevant documents of public meetings of governing authorities are generated. The Town Talk got huffy about that, suggesting that this bill takes away that same “right to know.”
But, again, the complaint is entirely spurious if not self-serving. Currently, newspapers of record depend upon the governing authority to pass along to them the appropriate journal with a payment and they reprint it. The only thing this bill would do differently is remove the payment. Newspapers, as in the case of juror names, are perfectly free to print these records on their own dime. As far as the public is concerned, the only difference will be instead of going to, for example, the Baton Rouge Advocate’s website to read these documents for state government they could go to one run by the state.
If the LPA and Town Talk really believed in what they were articulating and really believed in their role as defenders against potentially oppressive government, they would not accept money for publishing these records and perform this public service. Absent that kind of commitment, their words ring hollow and are drowned out instead by the ring of their cash registers as the genuine reason for their opposing these entirely reasonable and cost-reducing bills.