Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Censors at the Statehouse

OK, so it's just a political commercial in the midst of a heated election campaign, but there is no excuse for the outrageous attempt at censorship by the quasi-public office that televises and webcasts official events at the Statehouse.

The Ohio Channel, which airs sessions of the General Assembly, oral arguments of the Ohio Supreme Court, and other events under contract with the state, has refused to allow a Democratic front group to circulate a video of the 2005 swearing-in ceremony of Justice Judith Lanzinger of Toledo.

Master of ceremonies at the event, attended by virtually every top state official, was Justice Lanzinger's campaign chairman, Tom Noe, the Republican insider now on trial in Lucas County for allegedly stealing a portion of $50 million in state money that was supposed to be invested in rare coins.

With the Nov. 7 election less than a month away, the purpose of the spot, prepared by ProgressOhio, a Democratic advocacy group, was to remind voters of the cozy relationship between Noe and GOP officials - Gov. Bob Taft, Secretary of State (and now gubernatorial candidate) Ken Blackwell, Auditor Betty Montgomery, and House Speaker Jon Husted.

But the Ohio Channel, a nonprofit agency, says it retains the copyright on the video, and that it cannot be used for political purposes. That's absurd, given that the event was staged in a state facility, for an official purpose, by a state-funded entity.

The video is thus a public record, which the public has a right to view. Moreover, it's a stupid political move because censoring the spot only served to provide attention it otherwise might not have received.

The copyright argument also was used by the Ohio Channel recently when the Ohio Republican Party lifted an out-of-context excerpt from debate in the House of Representatives to skewer Rep. Barbara Sykes, the Democratic candidate for state auditor.

State GOP chairman Bob Bennett ignored the objection to the anti-Sykes spot on the grounds that it is political speech protected by the First Amendment. If that's the case, then there is no reason the ProgressOhio spot shouldn't be used as a pre-election albatross around the necks of the state Republican leadership.

It's worth noting that the Ohio Channel formerly was a state agency that spun off as a nonprofit organization - with the intent, we suspect, of protecting Republican officeholders.

Now the political shoe is on the other foot, and it looks like GOP operatives have stepped in something they could have avoided.

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