MAUI SEN. ENGLISH PROPOSES ‘STEVEN TYLER ACT’
Credit Malia Zimmerman of Hawaii Reporter for breaking this one on Thursday, Jan. 31:
“State Senator Kalani English, a Maui Democrat, introduced the Steven Tyler Act, which would make it a tort to invade the privacy of celebrities,” Zimmerman reported. “The bill aims to ‘encourage celebrities to visit and reside in our State by creating a civil cause of action for the constructive invasion of privacy.’ It could be used to prosecute a reporter or photographer ‘if the person captures or intends to capture, in a manner that is offensive to a reasonable person, through any means a visual image, sound recording, or other physical impression of another person while that person is engaging in a personal or familial activity with a reasonable expectation of privacy.’”
According to Zimmerman’s story, 25 of the state’s senators have already signed onto the bill, which is listed as SB 465. Bill introducers include English as well as Maui Senators Roz Baker and Gil Keith-Agaran. And yes, it’s actually called “The Steven Tyler Act.” Here’s a quote from the bill text itself:
“Steven Tyler, the lead singer of Aerosmith for over forty years, former ‘American Idol’ judge, and world-renowned celebrity has recently purchased a home on Maui. He will now be sharing his time between Boston, Los Angeles, and his new home on Maui. In honor of Steven Tyler’s contribution to the arts in Hawai’i and throughout the world, this Act shall be known as the Steven Tyler Act.”
Contribution to the arts in Hawaii?! Wow, what lips English has for him to be able to kiss Tyler’s ass all the way from the Legislature in Honolulu. Clearly, this bill is nothing more than a big “Move Here” sign for wealthy rock stars and Hollywood starlets.
What’s more, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that people can photograph or film police officers on public highways and roads because they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in these public spaces. Beaches and ocean are also public, but this bill would seem to create a special class of citizen–the celebrity–who would enjoy special privacy rights even in such public spaces.
So what will all that mean in real terms if the bill passes? Lots of trouble, according to Zimmerman:
“Hawaii attorney and legal blogger Robert Thomas said there are a number of problems with the legislation, and its impact could be far reaching,” she reported. “Even people who use a smart phone to take photos of celebrities or stars of the locally produced Hawaii 5-0 could be held civilly liable.”
It’ll be really interesting to see how far this goes.
Oh, and one more thing, which is supremely ironic given that English’s bill is about celebrity. As you noticed at the beginning of this blurb, I credited another publication with first reporting on this bill. Given that the bill is part of the public record, I didn’t have to do this. I could have simply called up the bill text online and proceeded to report the story as though I’d discovered the bill on my own.
But I chose to because Hawaii Reporter discovered and wrote about the bill by doing actual reporting–it didn’t simply hit “Publish” first after receiving a press release from some government official, which often seems to be the overriding impetus for breaking news these days. True breaking news is when an outlet reports a story that officials aren’t publicizing. That’s what Hawaii Reporter did in this case, and other reporters following behind them should credit them.
But over the weekend after the Hawaii Reporter’s story broke, I couldn’t help but notice other, larger, news outlets run with their own stories on English’s bill–the Associated Press, Hawaii News Now, the Los Angeles Times. But so far, I’ve only been able to locate stories in the New York Post and USA Today that actually credited Hawaii Reporter with first reporting the story.
In the days before online aggregation of news, that kind of behavior from news outlets who should know better was easy to hide. That they would continue such pettiness these days is beyond callous.
ABERCROMBIE, LEGISLATURE HACKING AWAY AT SHIELD LAW
Speaking of journalists, Honolulu Civil Beat, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Oahu blogger Ian Lind all reported last week that the state Legislature is working very hard to damage the current “shield law” that protects us reporters from having to reveal confidential sources to authorities.
“The [House Judiciary] committee on Tuesday [Jan. 29] inserted new exceptions that reduce the protections journalists have under the shield law,” Civil Beat reported on Jan. 31. “The committee passed amendments over the objections of a coalition of media outlets that want the Legislature to just make the law permanent in its current form. The law will expire June 30 unless lawmakers take action.”
According to Civil Beat, the state’s current shield law says “reporters only have to reveal their sources if there’s enough evidence that the source or protected information is critical to an investigation, a felony case or a defamation case.” That makes it one of the strongest in the nation.
But Lind says the new bill HB 622 would “cripple the law by dramatically limiting the circumstances under which its protections would apply.”
Ironically, the original shield law came about while Republican Linda Lingle, a former Molokai journalist, was governor. As for current, supposedly liberal, Governor Neil Abercrombie, he’s apparently a bit less enthused about shielding reporters.
“It’s also disappointing that the push to strip away journalists’ protections is coming from Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie’s administration,” Lind wrote on Jan. 31. “I think a lot of us expected and continue to expect more from Neil.”
Then again, if most news outlets these days are just passing off other reporters’ work as their own while waiting for government officials to tell them what to publish, what is there really to shield?