Overstepping The Role? p.11

By: LAURA REINA AWRITER WITH an Indiana weekly was recently criticized by the state's largest daily for testifying before a state legislative committee.
Siri Sitton, staff writer with the Kokomo Perspective, was asked by state Sen. Jon Padfield (R-Ind.), who is introducing a bill to the state Senate which would "enable parents to better protect their children," to reveal what she found while investigating a series on child protection in Indiana.
In addition to revealing her findings, however, Sitton also expressed her negative personal feelings about the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.
In an editorial, the Indianapolis Star stated its belief that Sitton overstepped her role as a reporter.
"It's not every day a reporter stands before a legislative committee and states her opinion," read the editorial. "That's not her job. Reporters are supposed to gather information, put it in the paper and let readers make up their own minds. Siri Sitton of the Kokomo Perspective did more than that."
But Sitton and her editor, Curt Alexander, don't think she was out of line.Sitton said her First Amendment right of free speech supersedes her role as a reporter.
"This [the Star] is a media publication questioning another person's right to free speech. First, I'm an American. Secondly, I'm a reporter."
Alexander believes reporters are entitled to express their opinions publicly.
"If any reporter believed in something, I wouldn't mind them taking a stand," he said.
As for Sitton's recent testimony, Alexander said, "We're very proud of her for expressing her heartfelt views on a very conscientious issue."
Sitton said her strong opinions on the state of Indiana's child protection system have come about because of her reporting on it. And Padfield has provided her with information along the way.
Her first article on the topic in November 1995 included an interview with Padfield, who described testimony of parents offered at a hearing before the state legislative Family Law Interim Study Committee. Sitton quoted Padfield as stating: "Parents were in tears describing such events as children being taken at one in the morning, and children being strip-searched by social workers, who were to them complete strangers, and police with rifles surrounding a home, which had no history of violence nor any weapons, allowing social workers to remove the children."
Padfield gave Sitton the minutes from that hearing which became the basis for the first part of a five-part series. After the first part ran, Sitton said she began receiving phone calls and information that led to more stories.
"The more research I did, the more I was shocked," said Sitton. Among her findings, she said, were flaws within the system, laws broken, and some social workers who wielded enormous power.
Sitton said when Padfield asked her to testify late January, she felt it was her obligation to do so. Sitton said she has no regrets about expressing her opinions because she feels everyone has a bias, including reporters ? whether they want to admit it or not.
"When I agreed to do testimony . . . it was a matter of doing what's right," said Sitton.


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