Police put too much emphasis on protecting information, which hurts society by not allowing citizens to be aware of the whole truth.
Journalists and police officers often fight over the amount of information that should be released to citizens.
Journalists are supposed to reveal information to the public, give a voice to citizens and be objective in reporting facts, which may put the government in a negative light. Yet, it is important that journalists strive to cover stories involving the police.
However, police officers are sworn to protect the well-being of citizens. They are hired by the government to make sure citizens follow laws.
These two groups debate the reporting of issues, especially issues involving the police department. This is because both have freedom of speech. Yet, their duties often conflict with one another.
The First Amendment to the Constitution states that no law shall interfere with freedom of the press.
Journalists have a responsibility to keep an eye on the government. They must inform the public about how their taxes are being utilized, show the reality of violence and crime happening in their neighborhoods.
“The ‘primary purpose’ of the First Amendment was to create a fourth institution outside the government as an additional check on the three official branches," Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in 1974.
Therefore, when the police create obstacles to protect information, they are breaking the law. They are making it extremely difficult for journalists to report reality. This is a problem because when it becomes difficult to find truth, many no longer strive for it.
The police try to keep certain information out of reach of reporters because reporters can interfere with investigations or ethical issues arise. This is because reporters often do not follow a strong code of ethics. Thus, police have begun to mistrust reporters.
Yet, despite certain reporters’ inability to remain ethical, it is important citizens are aware of the happenings in their neighborhood. They are the ones paying taxes to keep their streets clean. Therefore, it is imperative they remain aware of what the police departments are doing to protect them.
It seems that when a citizen or journalist is curious about a police department, it is deemed a suspicious behavior. I had my own such experience. I was trying to better understand the police department of Greeley, Colo. I found it very frustrating and difficult to get answers.
In fact, I had to go through several obstacles to speak with just one officer. Also, as I was videotaping the outside of the police department for my class, my license plate number was taken down. A week after the event I was called and questioned about the visit. I was not acting in an illegal manner, yet I was treated as if I were a criminal.
When individuals, especially journalists, are scared to ask questions, they are no longer watchdogs for citizens. They become companions to the government and its programs. This diminishes the importance of journalism and freedom of the press, which in essence strips Americans of their right to information.
Carrissa Olszewski is a junior journalism major with an emphasis in news-editorial at the University of Northern Colorado.