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Positions Vary After Newtown FOI Panel’s First Meeting

by | Aug 1, 2013 3:13pm
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Posted to: Media Matters, Public Safety, Newtown

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Rep. DebraLee Hovey

A legislative panel considering privacy and government transparency issues raised by the Newtown shooting began working Thursday with advocates on both sides of the controversial issue favoring very different outcomes.

The task force was formed as part of a new law which prevents the public release of any photograph or video recording that portrays the body of a homicide victim. The law also prohibits for one year, the release of certain law enforcement audio recordings like ones describing the bodies of children who were murdered.

Families of some of the victims of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre lobbied heavily for the bill late in the legislative session.

The bill created a 17-member task force asked to make recommendations on the “balance between victim privacy under the Freedom of Information Act and the public’s right to know.” It met for the first time Thursday at the state Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Members of the panel acknowledged they would need to draft recommendations regarding aspects of the new law which sunset next year like the prohibition on the release of law enforcement recordings.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, representatives of the group offered opposing views of how that issue should be handled.

“I would like to see the recordings never released,” said Rep. DebraLee Hovey, a Republican lawmaker whose district includes part of Newtown.

“I don’t view them as having any purpose for the public whatsoever. The public is not going to — there’s no lesson to be learned from these,” she said.

The Connecticut chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists stands on the other side of the argument.

Jodie Mozdzer Gil, an online journalist who serves as the group’s president, said the organization was sensitive to the concerns raised by the shooting, but would like to see public information remain public.

That includes the photographs banned permanently under the legislation, which Mozdzer said she couldn’t imagine a newspaper publishing.

“If we’re allowing the government to decide that something should not be public, how do we know that they’re doing the right thing? Versus if we’re letting professional journalists be the ones to decide whether or not this is something we should publish. They’re the ones that should be the gatekeeper, not the government,” she said.

Mozdzer said photos and information from crime scenes could help to assess the response of law enforcement agencies or expose incidents of police misconduct.

“The question is, if there is alleged police misconduct or not, how do we know unless we have access to information,” she said.

Hovey disagreed, saying that the government could evaluate police conduct and law enforcement response to emergency situations without releasing sensitive information publicly.

“I think the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office can assess all of that via all of the documentation that they have,” she said.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane helped negotiate the legislation carving out exceptions to the Freedom of Information law. He said the release of law enforcement recordings will need to be something the task force weighs carefully.

“I think this panel needs to address it. I mean, these are the dying words of people, whether they’re victims of crime or firefighters in a building where the roof collapses,” he said.

Mozdzer and the SPJ feel the decision regarding whether the recordings are released to the general public should rest on the “journalists’ shoulders.” Hovey, meanwhile, has been a vocal critic of the media and its “over-the-top” coverage in the days following the Dec. 14 shooting.

Hugh McQuaid Photo But the argument will have to wait until another day. In its first meeting, the task force did little more than introduce themselves to one another and tentatively schedule a second meeting for Aug. 21.

Don DeCesare, general manager of WLIS and WMRD who is serving as one of the panel’s two chairman, said he expected a lively debate before the group concluded its work.

“My suspicion is that somewhere down the line we’re going to have some spirited conversations both among ourselves and even potentially with folks who will be testifying before us,” he told the task force.

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Comments

(4) Archived Comments

posted by: dano860 | August 2, 2013  12:07am

All of this could be applied to the films and related information surrounding the Twin Towers / 911.
Thankfully none it has been withheld or censored by our ever trustworthy government.
There has been a lot of information gleaned from an event that without question, one of the most viewed, most filmed / recorded horror in the history of the U.S.
Public information should remain just that…public information.

posted by: judge1 | August 2, 2013  1:10am

Evil cannot be stopped by hiding from it.  The right to know is the only way to confront Evil. The people in government should not be the only ones to evaluate the information that “We the people” should know! If we want that, then let’s all live in prison, controlled and subjected to another’sf control! This horrible crime does not go away by hiding the facts. Freedom does not hide from Evil!

posted by: ASTANVET | August 2, 2013  8:58am

Move along citizen, nothing to see here.  We will let you know when our well crafted and vetted message is approved for your viewing… I never thought that in CT we would have such freedom bashing orwellian elected officials… move along now… move along…

posted by: Noteworthy | August 2, 2013  11:38am

None of the Newtown information - NONE - should be private. This event consumed massive public services, is costing and will cost every taxpayer a massive amount of money to give them a new school and we have a right to any and all information. Government is never to be trusted with what information should be made public - Hovey’s comments are pandering because of the politics involved. Trust State’s attorney Kevin Kane? You have to be kidding me. This is the guy who wants to ban release of all information and met in secret to hatch laws that affect all of us. I’ll trust a journalist before I’ll trust the government and anybody working in the government.