BLOOMINGTON — A free press plays a vital role in ensuring an open and educated democracy, a Springfield media attorney told guests at Tuesday’s McLean County Bar Association luncheon.
The news media serve as the watchdog of government, often making elected officials uncomfortable with questions about how the public’s business is being conducted, Don Craven told guests attending the event at Illinois State University’s Prairie Room in Normal.
The history of the news media’s challenge to those who would withhold information from the public — including the well-known Pentagon Papers and Watergate examples — is paved with a flow of information that served the public, said Craven.
The attorney who has represented news media interests for several decades said the current hostile climate between the news media and some government leaders is counter to what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they put free speech and press provisions in the First Amendment.
“We the press have gone from being one of the great assets of our democracy to being the enemy of the people," Craven said. "Our current president, as a consistent practice, works to intimidate journalists who would provide any scrutiny of his administration by having the attorney general subpoena reporters and threatening to rewrite libel laws making it easier for him to sue the media.”
The news media also suffer from ills of their own making, said Craven, as large corporations swallow up newspapers and loosen the bonds that tie them to the community. Changes in technology and the manner in which people receive their news have made it harder for news media to compete and resulted in the deaths of many media organizations, said Craven.
The annual Law Day luncheon included the presentation of two awards for outstanding efforts in the community.
The Lincoln Award of Excellence was presented by 4th District Appellate Justice James Knecht to retired Judge Ron Dozier.
The award recognizes a lawyer who goes above and beyond what’s expected by their peers in the profession.
Dozier’s service as lead prosecutor and circuit judge and his volunteer work helping ex-offenders were cited in the presentation.
Dozier “was an early advocate for men and women who needed a second chance,” said Knecht.
The McLean County YWCA received the bar association’s Community Service Award for its Stepping Stones sexual assault program.
Judge Rebecca Foley noted the program’s counseling and advocacy for victims of sexual assault in making the presentation.