There is a reason for a free press.
This weekend the Kansas City Star broke a story regarding the COVID-19 virus, which said almost 70 percent of the deaths in the county associated with the virus had occurred in nursing homes.
The article stated that 15 facilities in the county reported a total of 114 COVID-19 cases, which makes up one-quarter of Johnson County’s total number.
Eleven locations have more than one case. At least eight facilities have had residents die of the coronavirus. Nursing home deaths accounted for 70 percent of Johnson County’s total as of April 24.
Johnson County has a population of just over 604,000.
What’s interesting about the Star’s article is they were able to obtain the information only after a Freedom of Information request was made – although residents and some elected officials had previously made requests and been told the information was private.
The lack of transparency with which Johnson County staff handled the issue is much different from Wyandotte County, which has been open with information from the beginning.
That’s why a free press is important. To ask the tough questions. Free press doesn’t gain popularity with politicians or government employees, but it’s an important check and balance for democracy.
You can’t expect the tough answers from a government newsletter or internet site. The key to public relations is to always put a positive spin on things. Government media puts their best first forward – it’s what they are paid to do to keep the tax funds flowing.
The public has the right to know — especially when our rights are being trampled. People worry about their right to bear arms – but there are other rights equally important: freedom to travel; freedom to work; freedom to worship; freedom of speech.
In the face of a pandemic, does that mean we shouldn’t take precautions? Absolutely not. But we have the right to information that allows us to make rational and informed decisions.
Are we surprised that Johnson County played it secret? No.
More and more we see government close ranks and try to eliminate the checks and balances a free press provides. The free flow of information is inconvenient and not always positive.
Control is power. Many times – and not all – government pays lip service to transparency in front of the cameras, but major decisions are made prior behind closed doors.
According to Editor and Publisher magazine, nearly three-quarters of the US Senate have signed a letter to the Trump administration encouraging various agencies to increase advertising in local newspapers and on broadcast stations. A free press doesn’t need a handout – just a fair shake on a level playing field. And it’s important to realize journalists are an important part of the economy and provide a much needed check and balance.
Our thanks to the KC Star for asking the tough questions. That’s why we need a free press — not one major conglomerate — a free press with different opinions and voices.
The public has the right to know what government is doing.