Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

March 26, 2014

Overturned law means more transparency

(Continued)

In the Kane County opinion, also written by Garman, she said, a “person may write down what we say and publish it, and this is not a violation of the eavesdropping statute. Yet if that same person records our words with an audio recording device, even if it is not published in any way, a criminal act has been committed.”

Garman failed to see the distinction between the two.

Nor should she.

It’s not uncommon for politicians to deny saying something stupid that a journalist has quoted them saying.

But the wonderful thing about the Internet is that the reporter can simply post the audio recording online for the public to discern whether the quotes were accurate.

The public should feel empowered by this.

So how on earth did Illinois become one of only a dozen or so states with a law like this on the books?

Well, like so much in Springfield, it began in scandal.

Back in 1965, lobbyists were secretly recorded talking about which legislators were on the take.

Embarrassed lawmakers responded to the scandal by making it illegal to secretly tape conversations without a court order, the late Bill O’Connell, a retired statehouse reporter for the Peoria Journal Star, told me several years ago.

So the impetus behind the law was to cover up official skullduggery and make Illinois lawmakers who might have been on the take sleep a little better at night.

That’s a bad law grounded in official deception.

It’s time for Illinois to erase this bad policy and allow folks to just press record.

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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