Woman dragged through media a disturbing scene

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Far be it for a newspaper editor to complain about "the media," but I join others in disgust at the throngs of reporters, photographers and videographers who appear to have lost all decency in mobbing the mother of one of the passengers from Flight 370, the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, earlier this week.

It's now been two weeks since the airplane disappeared with 239 people on board, and the lack of progress has angered and frustrated families, who have accused Malaysian officials of withholding information.

It was Wednesday when family members staged a protest at the Kuala Lumpur hotel where media covering the search are staying. As CNN reported, their efforts were cut short by security guards who removed them from the building.

But they had to do so through "a crush of reporters," with one Chinese woman screaming as she was dragged away, "I don't care what your government does. I just want my son back."

The guards, also with no apparent regard for this woman's feelings, dragged her through what appeared to be at least 50 reporters who pushed and shoved to get the dramatic footage with their TV and still cameras and microphones.

Granted, the family members may have exposed themselves to the media by showing up at the very hotel where journalists from around the world are camped out, but it was disturbing to see such chaos.

We see similar scenes sometimes in the U.S. - and, yes, right here in Northumberland County, and, yes, occasionally involving our staff. But never to this extent. Besides, in the Malaysia Airlines case, those being chased by the media aren't accused criminals and they aren't celebrities - not that criminals and celebrities don't deserve respect, too. These are simply family members, and they're living out a nightmare.

It's likely a "perfect storm" of circumstances created Wednesday's troubling scene. And no doubt it was difficult for those journalists "doing their jobs" to turn away from the opportunity. At the same time, some probably are bothered by what transpired, too, and in seeing the aftermath wish they would have backed off.

At the same time, it is likely the "push" of the media - not physically, but metaphorically - that will play a role in these families finally getting the answers they so desperately seek.

Open record appeals

The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR) reported this week that it has faced a 113 percent increase in the number of appeals filed with it since it opened its doors.

An annual report on statistics from 2013 "illustrates the sustained upward trajectory of the public's interest in keeping its government accountable, effective and efficient," Executive Director Terry Mutchler. "It's a stunning indicator that even after five years of record highs, our caseload continues to increase."

The mission of the OOR is to implement the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) unanimously adopted by the Legislature in 2008.

In addition to adjudicating the nearly 2,500 appeals filed in 2013, the OOR handled more than 20,000 telephone calls and e-mail inquiries and participated or monitored nearly 170 cases in the Courts of Common Pleas, Commonwealth Court and Supreme Court, the office reported.

A snapshot of the report shows that 1,084 appeals were filed against state agencies and 1,394 appeals were filed against local agencies. While the report highlights the increased use of the RTKL by inmates, "it distinctly validates the law's success in allowing citizens to identify government waste and inefficiency and empowering them to require change."

(Andy Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for Saturday editions. Email andy_h@newsitem.com.)

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