Editorial: The public's right to know

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People have a right to know, and newspapers continue to support this and the public’s free access to government records and meetings.

That’s why two bills — S435 and HB572 — introduced in the General Assembly this week caught our attention.

The bills each call for the continued publishing of public and legal notices in newspapers and on newspaper websites. These bills bolster the current state statute requiring all legal notices be published in newspapers of general and paid circulation.

The bills require newspapers taking legal notices to print them on their websites, as well, and on the statewide website for legal notices that the North Carolina Press Association operates. This provides for the most open access to these notices.

Also, if the public notices from government agencies — meetings, agendas, special actions — run for more than one day, the newspapers would offer a 15 percent discount on the subsequent runs, according to the legislation.

But if the law already requires that legal and public notices be printed in newspapers, what is the need for these two bills?

Along with requiring that newspapers publish these notices on their websites, these bills would stop legislation running through the General Assembly today that lifts the requirements for legal notices being published in newspapers. This other legislation also allows government agencies to print their public notices on their own websites and charge others, such as attorneys and the general public, to park their legal notices on those sites.

Well, the government should not be in the publishing business. Agencies publishing these notices on their own websites restricts public access to this information. Newspapers and newspaper websites consistently reach more people than government agency websites. Limiting public access is exactly what will happen if public agencies were all of a sudden exempt from the current law and could sell space for legal notices.

As a matter of disclosure, The Daily Herald is paid to publish legal notices. Give government agencies the opportunity not to pay to publish legal and public notices in newspapers and newspaper websites, and the public’s right to know will deteriorate.

We call on all of the Valley’s representatives in Raleigh — state Rep Michael Wray, state Sen. Angela Bryant and state Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram — to support HB572 and S435.

Factions have tried to limit the public’s right to know. We all must remain ever vigilant concerning the protection of freedom of information. Turn our backs just once, let only one piece of anti-access legislation get through, and it will be hard to ever get those rights and freedoms back.

The Daily Herald Editorial Board is comprised of Publisher Titus Workman, Managing Editor Duke Conover and News Editor Tia Bedwell.