Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Press Release: Release the press -- Disappearing press freedom in the State Capitol

Press freedom has come under attack in Hawaii, and from an unexpected quarter. Our own House of Representatives.

Reading Ian Lind's article on it yesterday flashed me back more than 30 years to a more repressive era in world history.

When I moved to Asia in the early 1970s, generals still ran governments and censorship was not uncommon. Signs near the elevators of the Chosun Hotel in Seoul reminded guests that no photography was allowed above the third floor. Don't even think about popping a flashbulb where you shouldn't, who knows what could happen to you.

Over in Taipei, I installed a high-speed international data line (all of 9600 bps). One of the conditions for approval of the circuit was that a retired Taiwan Army soldier would be stationed in the room with the equipment to monitor the data traffic. As if he could, he'd have to be quite a speed reader, and it was undecipherable anyway. The company had to agree to pay his salary or pension. Soft job for him, but symbolic of government's desire to monitor and control communications.

It was the American Bicentennial, and I was very conscious that we have a First Amendment and freedom of speech in my country, and hoped the idea would spread around the world a little faster. What a drag, having to hire a government spy to monitor your own data line.

Which brings us to 2006 in Hawaii, specifically in the House, part of our State Legislature, a body committed to uphold our laws and traditions.

Ian Lind has revealed that two people from the House Majority Leader's office are to be stationed in the one remaining little press box at the back of the House floor. This gestapo-like tactic will assure that anything said in the box immediately gets back to House leadership. Reporter Crystal Kua, in an email linked to at Ian's website, correctly describes stationing these two people in the press box as a form of prior restraint.

What has happened to House leadership this session?

You've read here about amendments coming to hearings that have been kept from public view. Others were prepared in advance by committee chairs away from the eyes of the public, to be sprung on the committee after all testimony is in, along with a direction to pass the new language.

Ian's article mentions the closing of the second press box and restrictions on access to the House floor.

The problem may be more than a need for "sunshine" or a "disinfectant" to eradicate corporate interns infesting legislative offices. House leadership has been unresponsive on either issue. Here is a new challenge. How will they respond? Will they respond?


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