Indo-Greek King Milinda: Venerable Nagasena, will you converse with me?
Buddhist Monk Nagasena: If your Majesty will speak with me as wise men converse, I will; but if your Majesty speaks with me as kings converse, I will not.
King: How then converse the wise?
Monk: The wise do not get angry when they are driven into a corner; kings do.
— Millinda Panha (200 BC)
Ever since man first assumed, or was granted, the right to rule, there has existed a degree of tension and distrust between he that governs and the governed. Although it rarely happened, truly wise kings and rulers were open and listened to their subjects. They sought advice and counsel as did King Milinda who ruled what is today’s Pakistan. The Q and A was recorded in the “Questions to Milinda” and became part of the Buddhist texts. Statues of Nagasena depict an elderly monk scratching his ear with a stick to symbolize the need to avoid gossip and always be prepared to hear the truth.
Walter Lippmann, an American columnist, wrote the “theory of a free press is that the truth will emerge from free reporting and free discussion.” History, particularly that of the United States where freedom of the press was guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution, has established that the advancement of the “good of the people” is only possible when there is a free flow of information, and dissemination of the truth to the public about the process of government and those who make, enforce and interpret the laws.
When colonial printer John Peter Zenger was prosecuted by Colonial Governor Cosby for daring to report, question and criticize his actions, Zenger and his attorney Andrew Hamilton successfully convinced a jury to acquit by arguing that the “loss of liberty in general would soon follow the suppression of the liberty of the press; for it is an essential branch of liberty, so perhaps it is the best preservative of the whole.”
I am in my 28th year of practicing law and I have served in federal, state and local government positions. I have long been a strong supporter of open government and the essential role of a free press to a robust and healthy democratic society. However, I am also well versed by experience and education in the history of tension, distrust and outright confrontation between government and the media.
Notwithstanding this history of confrontation, sometimes there have emerged examples of wonderfully effective cooperation. Utah’s Amber Alert is just such a model. I’m pleased that tonight my office will be recognized by the Utah Broadcasters Association for our decade long partnership with the media in saving abducted children.
At the first National Association of Attorneys General conference I attended in March of 2001, I picked up a binder with information about an alert system developed in Texas to quickly involve the public in the search for an abducted child. It was named after little Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped and murdered. At that time only five states had a statewide system in place. I came home determined to make Utah the sixth state and eventually a model of speed and efficiency in getting the word out as soon as possible after a child went missing. Every second counts in returning a child safely, and the quickest way to inform the largest audience is through the media. Come to find out, Dale Zabriski and the Utah Broadcasters Association had been independently pushing for an Amber Alert.
Led by my Director of Communications Paul Murphy and Dale, Utah government agencies, local police and sheriffs, and broadcasters and the media all came together and established our statewide system. Just a few months later, June 2, 2002, we issued Utah’s first alert for Elizabeth Smart. Soon the entire world wanted to know about AMBER Alerts.
Early on Utah began looking for additional ways to notify the public about AMBER Alerts. We were the first or one of the first states to innovate by sending alerts by email, text messages, business signs, highway advisory radio and trucking communications systems. We wanted the alert to be redundant so if you missed it on TV you might see it on a highway sign or a text message. Utah has issued 34 AMBER Alerts during the past decade. Most children were recovered safely and the alerts were directly responsible for bringing 17 children home. We have proven that the key to safely recovering children is for every Utahn to take the alerts seriously, think, and keep their eyes open. For example, in 2006, two young boys were recovered because a husband remembered the model of the suspect’s car in an AMBER Alert, and his wife remembered the license plate number. What was more remarkable is the couple lived in the southern Utah town of Ivins well off of I-15, and the victims were taken from the northern Utah town of Trenton!
The truth is that my experience in Utah has been that more often than not, open communication and collaboration between government and the press results in a net gain for the public we both serve. I encourage everyone to sign up to receive free AMBER Alerts on your cell phones at www.wirelessamberalerts.org. You can also be notified on Facebook about AMBER Alerts in Utah by clicking “Like” at www.facebook.com/AMBERalertUT.