One local TV station seems to have awakened to something Eye on Jacksonville alerted its readers to months ago.
First Coast News complained that it is difficult getting information from City Haul.
Reporters were trying to find out the origins of a list of public monuments to be removed.
Rather than just talking to someone, as reporters used to do, the station’s reporters apparently were required to submit written questions.
The written answers were vague and slow in coming.
Next they tried asking Mayor Lenny Curry a question at a press conference and he snapped back, “Look if there’s a paper trail and a public record and you’ve requested it, you should have it or you should get it.”
Later, the station said it was provided with the cost of removing the Confederate statue in what is now known as Johnson Park – $7,302. The statue was spirited away in the dead of night without prior notice, leaving the pillar on which it had stood for a century.
Public and press access to local government information has been diminishing gradually over the years, despite the state’s strong laws on public records and meetings.
But, while the Curry administration did not originate the wall of silence, it has perfected it over the past five years.
Nobody goes in city offices without scrutiny and nothing comes out except via the city’s designated spokesmen.
Access to public buildings is controlled in the name of security. This can be justified, to some extent. Years ago, someone went wild in the courthouse and started firing a pistol, nearly hitting one judge.
But, again, it is a question of degree.
In more open days, reporters could visit or call city employees and get information they had in their possession. This saved time and eliminated confusion.
But Curry is determined that The Message will be controlled.
Other agencies are not much better. It takes an effort to pry information from the sheriff’s office and the school system is uneven: Employees can be reached, but in one case involving information the schools did not particularly want to release, it took Eye months to get the information – and we had to pay for it.
On the flip side, reporters today conduct “investigations” by reading other people’s emails.
It is good to see the local media realizing a problem, but they are accomplices by allowing it to happen.
In days gone by, an aggressive local media would have raised a hue and cry.