The Big Island Press Club awards its annual meritorious Torch of Light Award to state Sen. Lorraine Inouye and the Lava Tube dishonor award to Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case. The Torch of Light award is given to an individual who brightens the public’s right to know, while the Lava Tube dishonor is given for a lack of communication and keeping the public in the dark.
Lava Tube Dishonor
The Lava Tube is awarded to DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case, who hails from Hilo, for setting up roadblocks to the media who have tried to gather information and gain access on matters large and small.
In particular, Case is cited for trying to issue special restrictions to the media — but not the public– on access to Mauna Kea during protests over the Thirty Meter Telescope, and for creating special rules for the media– but not the public– to follow when contacting division chiefs.
A Hawaii Tribune-Herald news article describing these restrictions included this quote, “I respect the DLNR’s desire to keep everyone safe on Mauna Kea, but I would strongly urge the state to give our reporters and photographers the same access as any other members of the public, including the protesters,” said David Bock, Tribune-Herald editor and publisher. “The newspaper opposes any effort to confine its news gathering to a media staging area.”
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 emailed to the media. “Contacting staff directly will likely delay a response to your request.”
DLNR’s media protocol, hinder, rather than assist, journalists across Hawaii who are trying to meet their deadlines and provide the public with information in a timely manner.
Torch of Light
BIPC has selected Sen. Lorraine Inouye, a North Hawaii Island Democrat, for its Torch of Light award. Inouye is honored 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.
When the June 27 Kilauea lava flow threatened the town of Pahoa in 2015, Hawaii County officials blocked all media access to the flow and its impact zones. Big Island Press Club members met with county officials to try to work out a mutually agreeable solution regarding access and were willing to meet the demands made of them, including paying for increased insurance liability waivers, undergoing specialized safety training and other safety measures. Instead, journalists in Hawaii and across the nation 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.
Recognizing that a free press is the cornerstone of democracy, Inouye has carried the torch for government openness. She workshopped 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 later this year at BIPC’s annual Christmas party.
The Big Island Press Club — the state’s oldest press club, founded in 1967– has awarded the Lava Tube and the Torch of Light annually since 1997 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.
Previous Lava Tube Dishonorees
2014 Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago
2013 Democratic Party House District 5 Council
2012 State Sen. Clayton Hee
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
2014 USGS HVO Scientists
2013 Mayor Billy Kenoi
2012 County Councilwoman and state Rep. Helene Hale (posthumously)
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