by David Corrigan, voice of Stephanie Salazar
HILO, Hawaii – And this year’s Lava Tube Award goes to… Senator Clayton Hee!
The dubious honor – awarded annually by the Big Island Press Club to individuals or organizations that have obscured the public’s right to access information – was the predictable result of the State Senator’s effort to alter the Hawaii Shield Law. The law was regarded as one of the best in the nation for journalists. Hee’s role led to its demise.
The press club says reporters consider a shield law crucial in encouraging news sources to provide public-interest information; sources that newsmakers may want to keep secret. The law prevents journalists from having to reveal those sources or their own unpublished notes in court.
Hawaii’s shield law was passed in 2008 with a three-year trial period and then extended two years. It was invoked only once, by a Hawaii Island filmmaker, Keoni Alvarez, when he was shooting a documentary on Native Hawaiian burial practices on Kauai.
|Sen. Clayton Hee
This legislative session, journalists hoped state lawmakers would vote to extend the law again.
Instead, Senator Hee – who is chairman of the Judiciary and Labor Committee – weakened the law, drawing criticism from media advocates. He explained his amendments in committee.
|Sen. Clayton Hee
Hee flabbergasted news outlets when he produced a copy of the infamous “Dewey defeats Truman” headline error printed in 1948 by the Chicago Tribune, saying it proved that reporters weren’t always right.
Also, Hee expressed disdain for the journalism practiced by bloggers and other members of Hawaii’s new media landscape.
|Sen. Clayton Hee
At the last minute, after it had passed conference committee, the Hawaii House of Representatives tried to revert the amended bill back to its original language, a disagreement which led to the death of the unpopular new version of the law. But it also meant the end of the Shield Law itself.
The Big Island Press Club also gives out another award every year at the same time – the Torch of Light, which goes to an individual or organization that has advanced the public’s right to know.
This year the winner is the late Helene Hale, who died earlier this year at the age of 94. She served in county and state offices for the past five decades, and was a member of the Big Island Press Club.
Former Honolulu Advertiser reporter and longtime press club member Hugh Clark remembered her fondly in a statement included in the club’s media release… much as he did at a Celebration of Hale’s life in February.
The Big Island Press Club has given the Lava Tube and the Torch of Light awards annually since 1997. Gov. Ben Cayetano has the distinction of being the only person to win both the Lava Tube in 1998 and the Torch of Light in 2000. The Hawaii County Council has won a Lava Tube four times.
The Big Island Press Club was founded in 1967 and is the oldest continually active media organization in the state of Hawaii.
Traditionally, the Big Island Press Club gives the Lava Tube and the Torch of Light awards annually on Freedom of Information Day, March 16, the birthday of James Madison. But because of the importance of the shield law and the potential for it not being extended, this year the club waited for the legislative session to end before choosing its awards.
Born in 1751, Madison was an author of the U.S. Constitution and a “Federalist Papers” author and one of the nation’s foremost advocates for government openness.