BIPC Awards Annual Lava Tube, Torch of Light ‘Honors’
The annual Torch of Light and Lava Tube Dishonor have been awarded by the Big Island Press Club.
Each year, the Torch of Light award is given to an individual who brightens the public’s right to know. Additionally, the Lava Tube Dishonor is given for a lack of communication and keeping the public in the dark.
The 2016 Torch of Light was awarded to Senator Lorraine Inouye for assisting the Big Island Press Club and sponsoring a bill to allow a media exemption to Act 111, a recently enacted law that gives broad emergency powers to the government.
Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case received the 2016 Lave Tube Dishonor for setting up media roadblocks to those who tried to gather information and gain access on both small and large mattes.
Senator Inouye is a North North Hawai’i Island Democrat who has “carried the torch for government openness.”
In 2015, when the June 27, 2015 Lava Flow threatened Pahoa, all media access was cut off to the flow and its impact zones.
During that time period, members of the BIPC met with county officials to work out a mutually agreeable solution regarding access. Instead, journalists were unable to independently verify events and were provided government-sanctioned photos and updates.
“It is the role of the media to bear witness and be the eyes and ears of the public. Independent reporting is critical to providing the public necessary information so that they may make informed decisions, rather than react based on misinformation or ignorance,” BIPC said.
Senator Inouye worked with BIPC on the bill, steadfastly pushed forward in the face of opposition, and persistently explained the bill while winning skeptics to her side.
Inouye will be honored with a special Torch of Light trophy year at BIPC’s annual Christmas party.
Lava Tube Dishonor recipient Case is cited for attempting to issue special restrictions to the media, and not the public, in a particular instance outlined by BIPC involving access to Mauna Kea during protests over the Thirty Meter Telescope. In addition to the access restrictions, special rules were created for the media, but not the public, when contacting division chiefs.
The rules imposed by DLNR for the media include blocking access to division heads and other personnel who would know the answer to what are sometimes simple procedural questions on their areas of expertise.
DLNR has also blocked journalists from asking questions at community meetings, while allowing non-journalists to ask similar questions.
“DLNR staff and management are instructed not to respond to direct news media calls,” states a DLNR media protocol e-mailed to the media. “Contacting staff directly will likely delay a response to your request.”
The Big Island Press Club, founded in 1967, is the state’s oldest press club. The club has awarded the Lava Tube and the Torch of Light annually since 1997 on Freedom of Information Day, March 16, which is also the birthday of James Madison.
Madison, born in 1751, was an author of the U.S. Constitution, a “Federalist Papers” author and one of the nation’s foremost advocates for government openness.