Thursday, February 26, 2009

TAKE IT FROM THE PROS

TAKE IT FROM THE PROS: One thing all of the journalists who are routinely air lifted into Kaua`i quickly find out is that getting information directly from county officials or personnel can’t even be compared to pulling teeth because eventually with enough effort you can get the gums to relinquish a tooth.

Getting a phone call returned or an email answered by any departmental employees here is an exercise in futility and even a query made to Mary Daubert, the unusually cooperative county Public Information Office, will many times elicit the equivalent of a “no comment” at the administration’s behest.

That goes double for “council services” where the elusive County Clerk Peter Nakamura routinely blocks his staff from releasing public yet sensitive information and whom you literally have to grab in the hall to talk to.

And if you’re a private citizen- phew, forget it. At the end of each phone line is someone to refer you to someone who will refer you to someone else who will eventually refer you back to the one who originally answered the phone who will put you on hold until you just give up.

Because the lip-buttoning is so pervasive and has gone on for so long, no one has to tell anyone else not to talk to anyone about anything... much less put the policy in writing.

But someone on the Big Island forgot to consult the Kaua`i stonewalling pros recently when a six page document landed on the desk of the Hawai`i Tribune Herald “direct(ing) DPW employees to stop filming attempts, not to talk about cause or fault, and to withhold information from so-called ‘citizen journalists’” the paper reported today.

The paper reports that:

The county Department of Public Works has rescinded a recently implemented media policy that sheltered employees from public scrutiny, denied reporters access to road projects and blackballed Internet bloggers...

The policy specifically instructed DPW employees not to give out information to bloggers Aaron Stene (The Kona Blog) and Damon Tucker (Damon Tucker's Weblog) and Dave Corrigan of Big Island Videonews.com.The report says that policy was written up by DPW spokeswoman Noelani Whittington who at first denied its existence before being read some of the smoking-gun document.

When contacted yesterday apparently in anticipation of being revealed as a liar, in a classic response to being caught red handed told the reporter,

"I wasn't denying anything on it. I just didn't know what you were referring to," Whittington said in a follow-up interview Wednesday.

Whittington said she might have been very busy when first interviewed occurred Feb. 19.

"Sometimes it takes me a minute to focus," she said.

But one of the stranger aspects of the whole debacle is that the new Hawai`i County public relations specialist under new Mayor Billy Kenoi is Hunter Bishop a former reporter who was dumped from the Tribune-Herald staff- essentially for union organizing activity- and then started popular local news and politics blog.

Bishop, who has removed the blog where he served as a thinly disguised political hit man for Kenoi by going after progressive candidate Angel Pilago, was shocked-shocked when he was contacted by the paper saying "(t)here is no question this is not an acceptable media policy."

"It is not in effect. We do not support this policy," he’s quoted as saying. "As far as I know, there are no other media policies in the county, but I can't say that for sure,"

But the report says he added "We are working on a new general media policy for all departments mainly as a result of seeing this,....It will treat bloggers like any other media or member of the public,"The article says that:

There was no incident that prompted the policy, but rather a desire to differentiate "new media" from traditional reporters and concern by some employees that they had been filmed for a TV newscast, Whittington said.

The incident we reported on twice last December and January where blogger Tucker was harassed by a Big Island police officer for taking a picture of her in public was not cited in the article. Tucker was photographing and reporting on handicapped parking facilities at the Pahoa post office at the time of the incident.

PNN would request that Kaua`i County provide any documents regarding media policy but we’re laughing too hard at the concept of getting an answer much less the information.

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Correction: The measure we mentioned yesterday to lift the ban on mainland contributions in the 2010 governor’s race is not part of bill HB 539 but rather is in a separate bill set for hearing in the house finance committee today

3 comments:

Aaron Stene said...

I was the one directly targeted by this directive. Especially since I interfaced with the DPW more often
than the other two bloggers.

The troubling aspect of this debacle is the fact the directive seems to be still in effect. I have had a hard time talking to DPW and the county council ever since this directive was released.

Dave Smith said...

Disclaimer: Like Hunter Bishop, I was a reporter fired by the Tribune-Herald several years ago. However, it was not for union organizing, as the Trib has had a union for more than 50 years, but for standing up for the rights of its workers which were being trampled by a company hell-bent on union destruction. A federal judge subsequently ruled both of us were fired illegally, and against the Trib on 10 other NRLB charges of unfair labor practices. The company has appealed the ruling.

That being said, I have to take exception with your description of Hunter as a "thinly disguised political hit man for Kenoi" for publishing articles about his mayoral opponent Angel Pilago.

Regular readers of Hunter's blog knew him as a consummate journalist, and therefore an equal-opportunity hitman. He posted numerous articles with support documents about Kenoi exploits, including a now-infamous incident at a Hilo bar some four years earlier. Those postings were critical of the incident and Kenoi's handling of it, and were clearly not disguised, veiled or anything similar in the least.

And that "going after" of Pilago you refer to consisted of thoroughly researched and presented articles about Pilago's inconsistencies, misconceptions and outright untruths about key campaign issues and promises, none of which Pilago ever publicly denied.

Perhaps your comment was a throw-away one, because as I recall, you even once came to Hunter's defense when he was being ravaged for being a messenger.

In retrospect, that election was quite a learning experience. It seems that to some, when a politician has been labeled a progressive, deservedly or not, that means they are not to be criticized in any way, lest a "less progressive" candidate prevail.

Andy Parx said...

Fair enough Dave. I probably should have said that most Pilago supporters felt that way After I defended him over his reporting on Kanoi’s “bar room incident” I did have a problem with the whole education question and the involvement in the court case especially given the ambiguity in both situations that may have resulted from brevity on Pilago’s part as much as anything.