The First Amendment comes under fire from many quarters. The cases we hear about are usually on a national level when government officials try to keep the press from reporting on issues important to the public, with reasons ranging from saving face to national security.

President Bush in a November 2001 executive order gave sitting presidents the right to review all records before making them public. Subsequently, there has been a high rate of documents earning the secrecy label during his administration. As a result, as critics note, the American public misses out on a lot of information needed to make decisions about government policies.

Such shenanigans occur on the local level too. The Knightstown Banner, a Henry County weekly, recently went to court to free up a civil rights settlement between Knightstown and one of its employees. Knightstown refused to turn over the settlement to the Banner, claiming the document belonged to its insurance carrier, Governmental Interinsurance Exchange.

GIE didn’t give Knightstown a copy of the settlement because it would then be in the public record. GIE also refused a Banner request for the document. The newspaper sued.

It’s disturbing that the Henry County trial court found in favor of the town. Passing documents to a third party for safekeeping, away from public scrutiny, robs the public of information it needs to know. For a court to rule in favor of this is to undermine democracy and violates disclosure of how public entities spend tax money.

Fortunately the Appeals Court of Indiana saw through the twisted reasoning of keeping documents secret and decided that third parties, such as insurance agencies, could not keep public business away from the public.

The court opinion stated the General Assembly’s intention as it passed the Access to Public Records Act: “It is the public policy of the state that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees. Providing persons with information is an essential function of representative government ....”

We couldn‘t say it better. Government is in the service of the people and newspapers are carrier of information to the public. To deny them access to public documents that they share with their readers and citizens is to turn representative government into rule by a few.

We can’t allow this in our society. This case will probably go to the Indiana Supreme Court. When it gets there we can only hope it will agree with the appellate court. People simply must have access to what their government is doing.

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