Open court

A welcome assertion of the value of freedom of the press has come from the US Supreme Court. In the case at issue, the court ruled that both the press and the public usually should be able to attend courtroom proceedings at which juries are chosen.

In writing the majority opinion Chief Justice Warren E. Burger strongly supported the First Amendment's constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press.

In recent years too often officials at various levels have attempted to infringe on this freedom, most dramatically in the US invasion of Grenada. First the press was not permitted to cover the invasion, then for several days it was restricted in where it could go on the island.

Press freedom exists to serve the citizenry, who need to know what is happening in all areas of government, including the courts. In his opinion, Chief Justice Burger wrote that openness in jury selection ''enhances both the basic fairness of the criminal trial and the appearance of fairness so essential to public confidence in the system.''

With freedom comes responsibility. The press at all times should be responsible in its treatment of stories and people; sometimes individual journalists and their employers are not, as through sensationalism, and the public loses confidence - so difficult to win back - in the press generally: Recent polls indicate less than 15 percent of Americans have confidence in it.

A free and responsible press is vital to democracy. The Supreme Court ruling is one good move. Continued vigilance, including journalistic self-discipline, is also necessary.

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