REPORTER SHIELD LAW STILL BARELY ALIVE
Damn, the state Senate Judiciary and Labor (JDL) Committee is really dragging out the discussion on HB622, a new bill dealing with Hawaii’s Reporter Shield Law. First the bill sat for a few weeks in the committee while journalists around the state sweated over the possibility that it would die there, which in turn would allow the shield law itself to expire at the end of June. Then Democratic Committee Chairman Clayton Hee finally scheduled a hearing for Mar. 28, which attracted tons of testimony and further led to a follow-up April 2 hearing (a vote scheduled for the afternoon of April 3 happens after press time).
Right now, we reporters enjoy one of the strongest shield laws in the nation. Reporters at papers, magazines, online news sites and blogs in Hawaii can breathe easier knowing their unpublished notes and resources are safe from prosecutors and subpoenas. But the problem is that the law that shields us expires in June. Now this bill is a mixed bag for us–as currently written and amended, it both makes the law permanent and removes certain protections for reporters and bloggers.
Now there’s been all sorts of back-and-forth in the media world about who’s actually a “reporter” and how much shielding we need. In the myriad testimony that flooded the Senate JDL Committee on Mar. 28, University of Hawaii journalism Professor Gerald Kato cut through all the controversy and explained everything in just four clear sentences:
“I believe that good journalism is not only done within the four walls of a newsroom,” Kato said in his Mar. 28 testimony letter. “Technology has broadened our capacity to gather and disseminate information of public concern. Each of us has the ability to engage in what the pamphleteers and publishers did when the First Amendment was written into our Constitution two centuries ago. For those reasons, I believe it is imperative that we maintain protections for all forms of journalism that advances the goal of an informed citizenry.”
Of course, the people submitting all that supportive testimony are pretty much all journalists and bloggers (I noticed a few activists thrown in as well) so it’s pretty easy for the good senators to ignore them. After all, journalists are just another interest group in the state, looking for a handout or special exemption from this or that law, right?
Cynicism aside, even if HB622 gets unamended, passes both houses, gets signed by Governor Neil Abercrombie and makes the Reporter Shield Law permanent, it hardly heralds a new golden age for journalism in Hawaii. It just means us reporters can stop looking over our shoulders for prosecutors who want to make life difficult for us by asking us to reveal the identities of whistleblowers who feed us confidential information.
Hawaii’s Reporter Shield Law does nothing to help reporters, bloggers or just plain regular citizens from learning the identities of active-duty police officers who’ve been disciplined by Internal Affairs. It does nothing to improve the quality of information disclosed on campaign finance reports, or even to encourage state and local agencies and departments to comply with Office of Information Practices opinions.
Most discouraging, it does nothing to protect reporters, bloggers and just plain regular citizens from being arrested while attempting to film police officers in public spaces (disclosure: MauiTime’s publisher Thomas Russo is currently facing prosecution for doing exactly that).
In some aspects of the protection and encouragement of journalism, Hawaii is indeed a very progressive place. But in others, it’s frighteningly backward.
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Not to ruin any surprises for those still in the dark concerning this week’s main feature, but it’s another installment in an on-going effort to highlight books either by local authors or about subjects dealing specifically with Maui. There’s another book that includes all sorts of cool information and insight about life on Maui I’d like to mention that didn’t get included in the issue because, well, I wrote it.
Reviewing a book I wrote in the first place seemed a little too self-serving, even for me, but I will describe it for you. Called Stealing Cars With The Pros and published by Event Horizon Press in Sequim, Washington, the book includes selections from my career in journalism, which dates back to 1996. About half the book’s stories were originally published in MauiTime.
All of the book’s stories reflect a certain theme normally found in noir pulp fiction–crooks or bad cops, rich guys, beautiful women, downtrodden misfits, etc. The title comes from a story I wrote about a decade ago about a night I spent with some repo men in Orange County, California.
Call it a personality quirk or defect, but I’ve always had an urge to expose the seediness that lies just beneath the surface of wherever I’ve lived. Millions of people have lived in and visited Hawaii and Southern California and found them lovely, enjoyable and perfectly acceptable. But me? I’m the guy cataloguing all the PR bullshit at some press conference with gorgeous models and actresses or trying to figure out what it’s like to be an incarcerated mom on Maui.
What’s more, my good friend and former colleague Nick Schou agreed to write the book’s foreword. Schou, currently the managing editor at OC Weekly, gave me my first reporting job. He’s a great writer and reporter who’s already written fantastic books of his own: Orange Sunshine, about the trafficking of LSD between Maui and OC in the 1960s and Kill the Messenger, a biography of the late investigative reporter Gary Webb that will soon become a movie starring Jeremy Renner.
Anyway, Stealing Cars is currently available in paperback at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. I have a signing scheduled for May 4 at Barnes & Noble in Lahaina.