OPC Chastizes Fort Myers Sheriff for Declaring Right to Pick and Choose
Thursday, 19 November 2009
Sheriff Mike Scott
Lee County Sheriff’s Office
14750 Six Mile Cypress Parkway
Fort Myers, FL 33912
FAX: 1 (239) 477-1305
Dear Sheriff Scott,
The Overseas Press Club of America has been defending the right of journalists around the world for 70 years. We are in regular contact with petty (and too often not-so-petty) tyrants in countries where an assertive press provokes the irritation of public officials who do not wish to be provoked. You can imagine how disorienting it is, then, to hear a public official in America telling a local news outlet, “I have the right to pick and choose who I want to speak to.”
Sheriff, you don’t.
Obviously we’re speaking specifically about your statement this past Wednesday night, when reporters gathered in a conference room at your offices to ask questions about a breaking news story: the “no” vote against unionization by deputies. After taking one question from a local television reporter you halted the news conference and announced that you would take questions from anyone but The News-Press. It was then that you made your remarkable statement, which was captured on video.
We take no sides in your complaint about the accuracy of The News-Press in its coverage of your department this year, specifically its reports on three shootings involving your deputies, an allegation of a close relationship between yourself and a convicted felon, nor this week’s union vote. But we have no trouble taking sides with The News-Press in objecting to your refusal to grant interviews to its reporters, relying on your information officers to be the face of the department instead.
The job of a journalist is to make public officials accountable for what they do. Even when they get it wrong the work of a reporter is fundamental to the untidy process of democracy. We tell that to tyrants elsewhere in the world several times a week. We live and work in a country where free expression and free inquiry are central pillars of democracy, and because of that of that our lectures to tyrants have the weight of credibility.
We strongly object to anyone and any statement that undermines that credibility.
Co-chairmen—Freedom of the Press Committee
2442 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Fort Myers, FL 33901
Ms. Deborah Abbot
WBBH TV 20
Fort Myers Broadcasting
2824 Palm Beach Blvd.
Fort Myers FL 33916-1590
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