Emma Sweet was last seen with her father on Nov. 24, 2021. She was reported missing to local police.

Her father’s truck was found submerged in a Bartholomew County river. The father, Jeremy Sweet, was rescued from the truck and taken to a local hospital.

With the 2-year-old still missing, the family, through the sheriff’s office, asked that anyone come forward who may have had contact with either Jeremy or Emma Sweet.

A massive search for the girl was undertaken. The girl’s body was found downstream four days later.

Jeremy Sweet, who gave conflicting accounts of the incident, faces criminal charges.

What might this case have looked like if law enforcement officers were muzzled in releasing the girl’s name? Or if police had to withhold the father’s name because that information would easily identify the girl?

A piece of legislation has been introduced by Sen. Kyle Walker, R-Indianapolis, that seems intended to punish media outlets by allowing police agencies to withhold records that are currently public. It is punishment without merit.

Walker said his Senate Bill 117 arose from a single event in South Bend last year where the name of a 16-year-old shooting victim was published. The senator said the media outlet obtained the name from a daily log of incidents at the police department. A daily log, as mundane as it might seem, is another tool to hold police accountable so that the public can ensure that suspected crimes are docketed.

Walker’s bill provides that records containing a minor’s personal information may not be disclosed by a public agency such as a police department. That includes the names of victims less than 18 years old.

This proposed legislation limits media outlets in reporting on, say, a school attack by a young suspect. Or, dare it be brought out, the fatal shooting of a teenager by a police officer.

Credible news outlets do not name minors without family or police verification. Even in the often hectic environment surrounding a breaking news event, properly trained journalists verify names before reporting them.

But many skeptics of journalism have grown leery of this honor system. Walker’s bill is little more than an attempt to penalize the media for doing its job in relating information to the public.

Believe it or not, this standard of verification discourages the over-the-back-fence passing along of information based on gossip or rumor.

Walker’s bill is just the latest attempt to limit media access to public records. He attempts to redefine “public” as other legislators might also try to do in this legislative session.

This bill, based on a single report, is not worthy of the Legislature’s attention. It should be rejected out of hand.

The Herald Bulletin, Anderson

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