Thursday, 15 December 2022

'Censorship in its purest form': Chicago news outlets slam Mayor Lightfoot for blocking live police scanner transmissions

 A coalition of news organizations from crime-ridden Chicago wrote an open letter to viewers on Tuesday accusing Democrat Mayor Lori Lightfoot of "censorship" after she moved to block live transmissions of police scanners, WGN-TV reported.

Lightfoot authorized the city's Office of Emergency Management and the police department to transition to encrypted radio frequencies to prevent the public from listening to live police activity.

Since the decision, the news outlet claimed that Lightfoot has refused to address the media's concerns.

News organizations in the metropolitan area, including WGN-TV, WBBM-TV, WMAQ-TV, WLS-TV, WFLD, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune, all signed the open letter referring to Lightfoot's new policy as "censorship in its purest form."

Before Lightfoot's decision, police scanner communications were available to the public. The local news organization argued that having no access to the emergency service transmissions would "impact our ability to provide timely, accurate and potentially life-saving news." 

The letter explained that news outlets use police scanners to alert residents about "everything from traffic congestion to developing threats to public safety."

"A shooting took place at a courthouse and police district in Chicago last week in broad daylight," the letter stated. "The perpetrators fired more than 40 shots and escaped on an expressway. You did not see, hear, or read about that incident as it was happening. The City of Chicago prevented you from knowing about this dangerous incident by blocking all live scanner transmissions. This jeopardized the lives of everyone at that police department, everyone at that courthouse, everyone on that expressway." 

The coalition of news organizations also argued that live access to police scanner transmissions ensures "transparency and accountability by law enforcement." The letter stated that blocking the transmissions goes against the public's calls for more police transparency.

According to Chicago officials, real-time scanner transmissions were blocked to minimize disruptions, prevent criminals from monitoring law enforcement, and protect emergency responders.

"Police scanner transmissions have been available for decades," said Steven Mandell, an attorney representing WGN-TV. "Once you encrypt those transmissions, that shuts off the level of information, which affects public safety and our ability to monitor how our government works."

In a letter to Mandell, city officials claimed that "real-time access to police radio creates vulnerabilities that present a serious threat to law enforcement and the public, and that can be exploited by domestic and foreign actors – risks that the [city] cannot ignore."

Once the transition to encrypted frequencies is complete, the public will only have access to a website that plays Chicago police radio traffic on a 30-minute delay.

The news organizations' letter concluded, "To borrow language from the highest federal appellate court sitting in Chicago, 'The newsworthiness of a particular story is often fleeting. To delay or postpone disclosure undermines the benefit of public scrutiny and may have the same result as complete suppression.' We couldn't agree more."

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