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Opinion: Bill restricting release of 911 calls hurts public, journalists

6:28 PM, Apr 30, 2013   |    comments
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LANSING, Mich. (WZZM) -- The Freedom of Information Act or FOIA allows the public and the media access to a vast wealth of information, including 911 dispatch recordings.

Just this week, WZZM 13 obtained a 911 call which first alerted police to Jessica Heeringa's disappearance, through a FOIA request.

But there is proposed legislation in Lansing to restrict the public from having access to such recordings.

"What is the proper balance between the public's right to know and the dignity and the privacy and the rights of the victims of a tragic crime?" says State House Representative and bill sponsor, Kurt Heise. "What kind of balance can we strike and what is the appropriate time for those messages to be put into the public domain?"

The Michigan Association of Broadcasters (MAB) does not agree with State Rep. Heise's efforts to restrict the release of 911 recordings; they are public record and we as journalists use them to monitor emergency and public safety response.

Right now they are available through FOIA, which ensures government transparency and makes sure citizens can access information from the state.

The MAB, which WZZM 13 is a member, believes government should be more open and that any laws limiting access to government records should be few and narrow in scope.

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