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Borough violates our rights; Press & Journal takes action: Editorial

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Newspapers prefer to report the news, not be a part of it.

Recent actions by the Middletown Borough Council and Mayor James H. Curry III have given us no choice but to change that.

To recap: Six of seven council members and the mayor stated in a letter sent in July they don’t like how we have covered the issues facing Middletown, and they are retaliating against us by pulling all borough advertising from our newspaper. They also stated they would reconsider their policy if we published news which met with their approval.

“Should the Press & Journal demonstrate reliability to professionally and responsibly report on the actions and statements of Borough Council and Management, as well as critiquing us from a founded and balanced position, we will be happy to patron your newspaper again,” their letter to the Press & Journal stated.

As we replied in our July 25 editorial, the borough has a right to select publications such as the Patriot-News for placing their legal notices even when the costs to Middletown’s taxpayers are significantly higher.

However, there are substantial problems with the borough’s policy in that it doesn’t just stumble, but tramples over no fewer than four rights protected by the First Amendment of our great nation’s Constitution.

This goes past just an argument between the Press & Journal and the borough council. These rights are not just our rights as members of the free press. They are your rights, and the rights of every American.

Aaron Martin, an attorney with the Harrisburg firm of Mette, Evans and Woodside, read a letter at the Sept. 18 Middletown Borough Council on our behalf. The purpose of the letter was to save the borough from further public scrutiny and give them the opportunity to recant their unconstitutional policy.

It states, in part: “Your adoption of the Policy Letter is contrary to the American political tradition of a free and independent press, free speech, free petitioning of government and free political association. Americans have never countenanced government manipulation of the private press, and your stated motivation for terminating the Borough’s multi-decade commercial relationship with the Press & Journal is not just bad policy but an unconstitutional attempt to manipulate the free press.”

Martin hand-delivered copies of our letter to each council member and the mayor. We requested a response by Tuesday, Sept. 25. As of press time, we had not received a response.

We did not anticipate a public discussion by council at that meeting, and the courteous response by President Damon Suglia, deferring to the borough’s solicitor, was noted.

Sadly, Curry’s response was disrespectful and a poor reflection on the people he represents. He dramatically ripped the letter in half without even opening the envelope and tossed the pieces onto the table. Watch the video on the borough website and go to the 8-minute mark in the video.

A free and independent press is not a right to be honored when useful and discarded when inconvenient. Our job is to provide you, the citizens and businesses of the borough, with thorough coverage on the good, the bad, and the occasionally ugly.

The borough’s recent attempts to manipulate that coverage will never change our mission.

It is unfortunate we have reached this point, and we don’t relish the actions we will likely have to take if the borough’s policy is not changed. But there comes a time when we have to stand up for what is right and legally mandated for all of us.

For us, that time is now.