Editorial: Access Granted

News organizations including the Radio-Television Digital News Association and NBCU have asked a federal court not to restrict access to sealed documents—in the particular case, police dash-cam videos—saying it would give “too little weight to the public’s interest in government transparency.”

We agree with that stance, taken in an amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Also on the brief were Buzzfeed, Gawker and the Online News Association.

News orgs sought access to a dash-cam video of a Gardena, Calif., police shooting involving civilian injuries and a death that was turned over to the court in a civil rights lawsuit. The request for the video came after the suit had been settled. The court concluded the First Amendment required unsealing the videos, denying Gardena’s request for a stay; the videos were released.

Gardena appealed to the Ninth Circuit and said there should be a circuit-wide rule requiring that documents remain sealed in future cases pending any appeals. That is not a good idea. We have seen enough of those dash-cam videos to know they can provide important information to the public about how their safety is being protected, or not.

There is already a four-part test for staying an unsealing documents order that balances competing interests.

A rebuttable presumption of openness should remain the standard.