The Big Island Press Club has given state Sen. Clayton Hee the dubious honor of this year’s Lava Tube Award for his leadership role in overturning Hawaii’s shield law, which protected news reporters’ sources and unpublished notes. Reporters consider a shield law crucial in encouraging news sources to provide public-interest information that newsmakers may want to keep secret. The Lava Tube Award is given annually to an individual or organization that has obscured the public’s right to access information.
The Big Island Press Club has awarded its meritorious Torch of Light Award to Helene Hale, who died earlier this year. A former Hawaii County Council member and state representative, Hale was a noted open government stalwart and an advocate for protecting the freedom of the press. The Torch of Light is given annually to an individual or organization that has advanced the public’s right to know.
The shield law was passed in 2008 with a three-year trial period and then extended two years. Gerald Kato, a University of Hawaii at Manoa journalism professor and member of the Hawaii Shield Law Coalition, called Hawaii’s shield law “one of the best in the country.” Hee is chairman of the Judiciary and Labor Committee, which, at his urging, substantially weakened the law to the point that many media advocates called for an extension of the current law instead.
Nine senators voted against Hee’s amendments: Laura Thielen, Michelle Kidani, Rosalyn Baker, Sam Slom, Les Ihara, Will Espero, and Clarence Nishihara and Hawaii Island senators, Josh Green and Russell Ruderman.
Hee justified weakening the law by claiming that the “Dewey defeats Truman” headline error printed in 1948 by the Chicago Tribune proved that reporters weren’t always right. The Press Club newsletter pointed out that the example was more than six decades out of date and had nothing to do with confidential sources.
Acting on a floor amendment by Rep. Scott Saiki, the state House voted unanimously to extend the shield law for two years. But the Senate, following Hee’s lead, refused to hear the extension bill.
Torch of Light winner Hale died Feb. 1 at the age of 94. She served in county and state offices for the past five decades.
Former Honolulu Advertiser reporter and longtime BIPC member Hugh Clark said of Hale, “Helene was consistently sharing with reporters and other voters the ‘whys’ of her behavior and, by extension, that of her colleagues. Hale was invariably an open person who eschewed back-room dealing. She was typically forthcoming.”
Hale was a member of the Big Island Press Club for more than four decades.
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. 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.
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.
Previous Lava Tube Dishonorees
2011 Governor Neil Abercrombie
2010 Hawaii County Council
2009 Noelani Whittington, county Department of Public Works
2008 Mayor Harry Kim and Hawaii County Council
2007 State Board of Education
2006 Honolulu, Kauai, and Hawaii County Councils
2005 District Judge Matthew S.K. Pyun
2004 State Land Board Chairman Peter Young
2003 State Sen. Cal Kawamoto
2002 University of Hawaii Board of Regents
2001 University of Hawaii Board of Regents
2000 State Rep. Eric Hamakawa and Hawaii County Councilman James Arakaki
1999 Hawaii County Council
1998 Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano
1997 Hawaii County Councilman Elroy Osorio
Previous Torch of Light Honorees
2011 State Judicial Selection Commission
2010 Hawaii County Civil Defense and other departments
2009 Legislature, Gov. Linda Lingle
2008 Les Kondo, Office of Information Practices
2007 West Hawaii Today
2006 Lillian Koller, State Department of Human Services
2005 Retired Circuit Judge Paul de Silva
2004 UH Manoa Journalism Professor Beverly Keever
2003 U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink (posthumously)
2002 Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim
2001 Hawaii County Clerk Al Konishi
2000 Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano
1999 Jerry Rothstein and Judith Graham
1998 Environment Hawaii and Common Cause
1997 Society of Professional Journalists, Hawaii Chapter