Freedom of speech faces new obstacles, panel says
Government secrecy is more common since 9/11, it concludes
Seventy-five years after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed freedom of the press in a landmark case, reporters are increasingly being denied access to information and the courts in the name of national security, a four-person panel of judges and media-law experts said yesterday.
"The First Amendment in Crisis" conference at the UH-Manoa Richardson School of Law continues today, with a free continental breakfast served at 8 a.m. At 9 a.m. a panel will discuss news-gathering and access to government information. A discussion titled "Reporter's Privilege: Does It Exist?" will follow. At 12:15 p.m. a free lunch will be served, and Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Margaret Marshall will make a closing address.
"There is something very disquieting to me about the notion that we have secret proceedings," Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall said at a University of Hawaii-Manoa conference on the First Amendment. "When the executive branch claims that it is important to keep something secret, that shouldn't be an invitation for judges to roll over."
The conference, sponsored by the UH-Manoa Richardson School of Law, continues today with discussions on access to government and whether a so-called "reporter's privilege" exists. The symposiums are free and open to the public.
About 75 journalists, law students and professors attended the panel discussion with Marshall yesterday afternoon, which centered on pre-publication government restraints on the press and access to information.
Panelists also discussed landmark case Near v. Minnesota, which struck down a Minnesota law that prohibited the publication of "obscene" or "scandalous" newspapers and magazines.
Marshall said reporters in the United States are increasingly coming up against "prior restraints" -- not because they are being stopped from publishing material, but because they no longer have the same access to information.
"In the post-9/11 world, there is a lot of information you cannot obtain," added Gerald Kato, chairman of the UH-Manoa Journalism Department.
He said more public proceedings are being closed and more public records being made secret.
"I do think there are certain legitimate national security secrets," said Kato, who teaches a course on media law, "but the government seems to believe that there are a large number of secrets."
Also on the panel were Hawaii U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra and UH law professor Jon Van Dyke.
Ezra said Hawaii has not been immune to moves toward more government secrecy. Even before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he said, the state had two laws aimed at limiting freedom of speech and the press.
One of the laws said reporters could not speak to Hawaii prisoners. The second prohibited those who filed an ethics violation with the state from talking about the case publicly. He struck down both of them.
"One of our important roles as judges is to protect freedom of the press," Ezra said, "but there's always people out there who would like to see information swept under the rug."