News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Public interest a lousy reason for concealment

The more people who deem a governmental issue important, the fewer who get to see it.

That's an odd decision in a democratic republic, but it is the decision of Judge Rodney S. Melville in Santa Barbara, Calif.

This case — the prosecution of Michael Joe Jackson for alleged sexual encounters with a boy — has many Americans interested. Some are interested for noble reasons, some for other reasons. But whatever the reason, many Americans believe the trial is relevant to their lives.

At issue is whether information on past settlements Mr. Jackson made with other child accusers should be available to the public.

One might think that in a democracy widespread interest would tilt the balance toward the public's right to know. As is so often the case, however, that interest is an obstacle to disclosure.

Judge Melville was clear in his rationale for concealment: "The intensity of the media coverage in this case is unprecedented."

Mr. Jackson's case has little to do with the guiding principles of this nation. The ruling, however, should be one of those small assaults that, when added together, require democratic change.

Michael Jackson is one person; we are many. The founding fathers wisely concluded that the rights of the majority must not trample the minority. But the mere fact that many are interested in a governmental function certainly should not be a reason for secrecy.

Public interest should be a non-issue or a force pushing courts toward full disclosure. The majority runs a democracy, with protections imposed for the minority. Public interest should not be grounds for secrecy.

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