Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Senator reintroduces bill on 911 calls

A Northern Kentucky state senator has reintroduced a bill for the upcoming legislative session to prohibit the broadcast of 911 recordings.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, has argued that the bill would protect the identity of people making 911 calls, although identifying information would still be available in transcripts.

The Society of Professional Journalists published a letter Tuesday urging a similar bill in Ohio be withdrawn, saying it would diminish the news media's ability to report on breaking events.

"If audio recordings are banned from the public airwaves then it will be virtually impossible for citizens to hear how calls are being handled and effectively hold emergency response centers accountable," the SPJ letter said. "Ohio courts traditionally have ruled in favor of disclosure of 911 tapes for all to hear for good reason - it ensures the public trust in its institutions regarding the safety and welfare of citizens."

When Schickel introduced the bill in the 2009 session, he said he wanted to prevent news outlets from attracting viewers by broadcasting the frantic, sometimes final pleas of victims. The bill passed the Senate in the 2009 session but failed to pass the House.

Last year, the Kentucky bill was opposed by the Kentucky Press Association and the Kentucky Broadcasters Association, even though both organizations noted that such calls are rarely actually broadcast. In Kentucky, 911 calls are currently public records, available to reporters and ordinary citizens alike.

The bill, SB 308, would "restrict the availability of recordings of 911 communications to releases by court order," but would allow written transcripts.

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