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Katharine Graham receives Reporters Committee award

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         NEW YORK         Secret Courts         May 25, 2001    

Katharine Graham receives Reporters Committee award

  • The recipient of the Reporters Committee’s highest award cautioned that the public will lose if computerized court records are closed to protect privacy.

Katharine Graham, chairman of the executive committee of the Washington Post Company, told 500 journalists and other guests at the 30th anniversary gala of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that the public will be the “ultimate loser” if access to computerized records is denied for privacy reasons.

Graham, who received the Reporters Committee’s Lifetime Achievement Award, spoke to guests at the organization’s fund-raising dinner and cartoon auction May 22 at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City.

Touching on efforts to close off electronic court records, she highlighted the dangers of limiting access for privacy reasons. She said that the public must be made aware of long term problems that occur when court records are secret.

She described news stories that would be lost to the public if new prohibitions seal electronic records, stories such as the Chicago Tribune’s report showing thousands of patient deaths and injuries from nursing accidents; the Tulsa World’s series showing that the state judicial system’s treatment of drunken driving is fraught with loopholes; and the Post’s own reporting on fatal flaws in homicide investigations.

She touched upon some key principles to consider in the privacy debate:

* Most legitimate privacy concerns have nothing to do with newsgathering.

* Solutions to privacy problems should wait for the problems to actually emerge.

* Judges can, and do, avail themselves of the longstanding practice of sealing records when there is a need to do so.

* If some data really need protection, then narrow solutions should be found to protect that information.

The Reporters Committee commended Graham for lifetime achievement in preserving and promoting a free press, including her courageous decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, and later the Post’s pursuit of the Watergate story. Her memoir “Personal History” won the 1998 Pultitzer Prize for biography.

Tom Johnson, chairman and chief executive officer of the CNN News Group, chaired the event and network news anchors Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather served as hosts. Columnist Calvin Trillin was the dinner speaker.

The gala celebrated the 30 years of the Reporters Committee’s existence and its second major fundraising effort in New York. The event grossed $650,000.


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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