Gene Policinski: ‘When’ and ‘why’ we need to hear 911 calls

Opinion from The Californian: The word “restraint” and the First Amendment usually exist in uneasy tension.

The 45 words of the First Amendment don’t include it. The Pentagon Papers case in 1971 settled the issue of “prior restraint” by the government on what the press may publish: Nothing doing.

Many critics of the news media slam news outlets for a lack of it, from graphic TV images beamed “live” from car chases to un-restrained “paparazzi” photographers stalking celebrities. And in the digital age, whole new ethical controversies have arisen over images being captured and distributed via the ubiquitous presence of cell phone cameras.

But consider the news decisions made — at least thus far — on the release of 911 tapes from the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Conn., one year ago. The violence was real, and callers were facing the horror of a shooter who eventually would kill 20 students and six educators.

Seven tapes of 911 calls from Sandy Hook teachers and staff at were released at 2 p.m. on Dec. 4, under a court order following a request by The Associated Press, which had sought the tapes’ disclosure since the day of the shooting.

There is a difference between having public access to such calls and the public broadcast or online posting of the calls themselves.

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