Thursday, April 04, 2013


“Politically powerful senator” guts media shield law

by Larry Geller

Hawaii’s media shield law, considered among the best in the nation, sunsets this year unless the Legislature either makes it permanent or revises the law.

Removing the sunset provision would be the easier path, but it appears that legislative leadership intends to replace the existing law with a greatly watered-down version.

Today’s Star-Advertiser reports that Senator Clayton Hee has gutted the law by removing protections for bloggers and non-traditional journalists, among other changes.

revengeThe state Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee on Wednesday made substantial revisions to a media shield law, removing bloggers and other nontraditional journalists and deleting the protection for unpublished information, like notes, unless it would lead to the identity of confidential sources.

[Star-Advertiser p. B1, Hee's panel defangs press shield law, 4/4/2013]

[The on-line version of this story is headlined, Hee's panel defangs press shield law]


But Jeff Portnoy, an attorney who represents the Hawaii Shield Law Coalition, an advocacy group for news media interests, including the Star-Advertiser, said he would rather let the shield law die than accept the Senate's version.

"Kill it. Kill it," Portnoy said. "This is a piece of junk."

Also troubling is the Star-Advertiser’s report that Sen. Hee cited the famously erroneous Chicago Daily Tribune article, "Dewey Defeats Truman," in justification for removing many of the protections from journalists in his amendment. Accuracy isn’t the issue here, of course. Shield laws permit journalists to protect their sources, with some exceptions, enabling them to gather and publish information in the public interest.

Could this action be payback for bloggers’ attention to Sen. Hee’s filing of incomplete financial disclosure forms over a period of years?

It was blogger Ian Lind who uncovered and publicized the omissions in his article, Politically powerful state senator files false ethics reports (, 3/21/2011). (Though he blogs, Ian is clearly a professional journalist.)

This blog picked up the story and I subsequently filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission and later with the Senate President under Senate Rule 72. (See also Article XIV of the Hawaii State Constitution.)

The Ethics Commission declined to take any action against the “politically powerful state senator.” See Ian’s article and important attached comments at Senator Hee escapes ethics penalties despite commission concerns (, 10/22/2011). Similarly, the Senate President declined to exercise the rule.

Ian Lind’s blog, this blog and Civil Beat have pressed the Legislature on ethics issues and its failure to pass corrective laws over the years. All of this cannot have endeared bloggers to Sen. Hee or to other legislators who have been called out in on-line articles.


Oops- I meant to leave this here- I just posted it on the Civil Beat story on it:
I've been a journalist for almost 40 years on Kauai with a web site/blog doing news and analysis/commentary for 5 years, five more before that doing straight news and 10 before that on TV news. I have reported on a thousand stories on Kaua`i, and now I'm certainly on the outs with this amended bill.
But what interests me is the first amendment issues. While a shield law is not a first amendment right (at least according to the courts) if you are going to have a shield law and then exclude certain reporters and "publications" not THAT seems like a first amendment violation to me.
Not only that but before the shield law I had to decide no less than a couple of times a year "will I go to jail for this story" when I'm approached and asked to guarantee anonymity to a source. It's been a pleasure not to have to think that for the last few years. I guess now I- and my family- will have to go back to worrying about that every time I get a call, email or letter saying "I can give you the inside story on corruption but you have to protect me."
Stay out of my notebook Clayton.

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