Judge Won't Open Mine Probe to News Media

Judge Won't Open Mine Probe to News Media

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A federal judge on Tuesday rejected the news media's request for access to the government's investigation of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said there's nothing in the Constitution that gives reporters the right to watch interviews or get other access to an active investigation. He denied a request for an injunction.

"While it may be true that requiring all government investigations to be open would result in greater accountability and more accurate information, if such a requirement is to be imposed, it must come from a statute that is debated and passed by Congress and signed into law," Benson said.

The lawsuit was filed by The Associated Press, The Salt Lake Tribune, CNN, the Deseret Morning News and the Utah Media Coalition, an association of Utah newspapers, TV stations and professional journalism organizations.

Six miners died after an Aug. 6 cave-in at Crandall Canyon in central Utah's Emery County. Three people trying to clear rubble were killed during another collapse Aug. 16. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is investigating what happened.

"This court ruling allows MSHA's law-enforcement investigation ... to continue without media interference that could deprive the public and the victims' families of a full accounting of what happened at Crandall Canyon," U.S. Labor Department spokesman David James said.

He said information gathered by MSHA eventually will be released unless deemed confidential.

In his ruling, Benson noted that the attorney for the news media conceded there is nothing in a 1977 mine-safety law that requires MSHA to open an investigation to the public.

A right to watch trial witnesses in a courtroom doesn't mean the public has a right to sit in while the government interviews people, the judge said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Price argued last week that people may be less likely to come forward if they knew their statements could be published.

MSHA plans to issue a report on Crandall Canyon when its work is finished.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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