Newspapers should prevail in lawsuit against legislature

From an editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal on Thursday:

A lawsuit filed by the Greensboro News & Record and other Guilford County newspapers against state legislation that disenfranchises them has widespread implications for the public’s right to access government information. The suit has merit and should prevail in court.

The News & Record, High Point Enterprise, Carolina Peacemaker and Jamestown News have sued the state of North Carolina and Guilford County to protest a local measure the state legislature adopted in October authorizing Guilford County to post public notices on its website rather than place them in newspapers’ print and internet editions, as has traditionally been required, the N&R’s Taft Wireback reported on Tuesday. The legislation applies only in Guilford County, which the lawsuit claims is unfair, politically motivated and in violation of the state constitution.

Legislators didn’t like the newspapers’ criticism and retaliated by attacking a significant portion of their income, the suit alleges. If so, the bill is not only politically motivated, but it’s an attack on the free press and the public’s right to know what its government is up to.

Legislative representatives say they’re trying to save taxpayer money by publishing the information on a government website rather than pay for it to be published, as the law has required.

But even in this computer age, more people are likely to access the information via news media — including online resources — than by a government website. Allowing government control of the information also invites abuses, such as potential tampering with information that officials might like to suppress or spin, the N&R reported.

The bill passed by the legislature will do more harm than good. Even if its motivation is pure, it’s the wrong direction to go, for the public’s sake.