Threat shows mayor doesn’t understand value of free press

  • Friday, January 12, 2018 1:28pm
  • Opinion

A free press is a government watchdog.

A free press is fundamental to democracy.

A free press is protected by the First Amendment.

Langley Mayor Tim Callison seemed to forget all of this when he threatened to sue the newspaper for libel if a local resident’s assertions regarding the mayor’s knowledge of a public records violation is published.

Mr. Callison’s saber-rattling is a disturbing attempt at censoring the newspaper, but we will not be bullied or threatened into silence by a government official.

A free press is more important now than ever.

Callison should understand by now that the best public officials have thick skins. Most understand that they may not like everything that’s reported, nor what constituents say about them. Also, most understand that being a public servant is a privilege, and that the press and law hold public officials to a much higher standard than private citizens.

For a democracy to work, the people and the press must be able to question and confront public officials without fear of reprisal. A government “of the people, by the people and for the people” isn’t always easy or pain-free.

Mayor Callison strongly denied an assertion made against him by a citizen, as the story reports. That should have been the end of it.

This isn’t the first time that Callison has gone after the local newspaper, The South Whidbey Record.

He made regional headlines and TV news when he sent a $64 bill to The Record after a reporter interviewed the city’s attorney; Callison later claimed he wasn’t serious and was just trying to make a point.

The newspaper doesn’t pay for interviews.

Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, had this to say at the time: “I have never, ever heard of any such thing anywhere. … I can’t think of any circumstance when the news media would have to pay for any city staff’s time, whether they’re contracted staff or in-house staff.”

Callison may just be mayor of a small town overrun by bunnies, but he is required to abide by the same Constitution as senators and presidents.

And the newspaper will continue to do the constitutionally sanctioned job of covering local government and informing the public.

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