DOD Puts Journalists on Notice: You're Not Safe From the U.S. Military

This past summer, the Department of Defense published it's new instruction manual for waging war, the Department of Defense Law of War Manual. It's a massive, nearly 1,200 page document that, as the Washington Times puts it, "tells commanders the right and wrong way to kill the enemy."

Among the hundreds of pages is a section that defines "journalist." It says, "In general journalists are civilians. However, journalists may be members of the armed forces, persons authorized to accompany the armed forces, or unprivileged belligerents." In this new manual, "unprivileged belligerents" is virtually indistinguishable from the phrase it replaces, one with which every American is familiar: unlawful enemy combatant.

As there ave been recent incidents in which terrorists posed as journalists to carry out attacks, the DOD has added them to the list of individuals they're willing to kill without too many questions. What's the problem with this? Well, it's hard to know where to begin.

For starters, in this age of American drone attacks, there's no way to confirm whether an identified journalist is just that, or whether they're merely posing as such for nefarious purposes. Rather than confirm a journalist's identity, it seems the DOD's new approach is to shoot first and ask questions later. More and more, it seems, the American military is less and less interested in avoiding civilian casualties. Possibly even more troubling that unmanned drone assaults on innocent people is the far-reaching implications this new approach could have on our ability to learn first-hand what's really going on in these war-torn places around the world.

It is becoming increasingly rare that experienced journalists are willing to embed themselves into these dangerous areas around the globe to tell stories no one else is. Knowing now that they could potentially be targeted, rather than accidentally killed, will likely give even more of these brave individuals pause before going on assignment. The result may be fewer journalists being killed in action, but will almost certainly result in less factual and unbiased information coming out of these areas.

On April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released a classified U.S. military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over two dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff:

An Open Letter to Journalists, Media Managers, and Media Owners

The Law in its majestic equality forbids the rich and poor alike, to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread. - Anatole France

John Witeck's letter (see below) reminded us of the above quote from the French Nobel Laureate, in that it decried the treatment of some of the least powerful members of our community at the hands of some of the most powerful (the media).

Mr. Witeck reminds us that words matter and that words like "sweep" and repeated photographs, and footage of trash left after homeless persons are rousted from their encampments; convey derogatory and discriminatory images of people, who are our neighbors.

We agree that this sensationalizing treatment dehumanizes, demonizes, and robs people of their dignity! Words like "sweep" and lurid photos without interpretation should be consigned to the dustbin! We ask that this practice stop and that efforts be made to treat the subjects of these stories with respect and dignity.

Media Council Hawaii reminds all that the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethical Conduct admonishes:

Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. ...Journalists should... show compassion for those who may be affected by new coverage.

We are pleased that the Honolulu Star-Advertiser published Mr. Witeck's letter in its Sunday, October 11, 2015 edition. Further, we are pleased that there has been some excellent journalism about these issues.

The Media are a powerful force in our community. This power should not be used against some of the most vulnerable of our neighbors. Please do no harm!

Thank you.

Chris Conybeare
Media Council Hawaii


John Witeck's Letter:

The word 'sweeps' demeans homeless

I was outraged seeing the headline that proclaimed, "Sweeps spur move to Kewalo Basin" (Star-Advertiser, Oct. 8).

The article discussed the removal of homeless individuals from Kakaako and their likely move to Kewalo Basin, where no doubt they would be similarly displaced in the future. Your use of "sweeps" in your coverage is frequent and unfortunate.

Th main definition of "sweep" is "to clean or clear, as of dirt, with a broom or brush." The use of this term depicts the homeless as dirt or vermin. It is clearly derogatory and demeans people whose economic misfortunes have caused them severe distress in Honolulu's high-priced housing market.

When the paper and media publicize how many pounds of trash and materials are removed, it dehumanizes the homeless even more.

Your paper, the broadcast media and our callous politicians should cease using the word "sweep" in regard to removing encampments of homeless families and individuals from public property.

John Witeck
Kamehameha Heights

Hawaii Should Look to Montana for Leadership on the Shield Law

While state lawmakers have been working to undermine journalism here in Hawaii by weakening legislation to enact a shield law to protect confidential sources, freedom of the press is getting support from a most unlikely place in the country.

Think about Montana and your mind's eye sees a state of scenic splendors and rough-hewn beauty that stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. You think of bison on the plain and fly fishing in the lakes and streams. You think of cattle ranchers and characters out of "Hell on Wheels;" tough and independent.

You think of all these things, but you don't usually think that Montana is the state that's going out of its way to protect journalists. But its Republican-controlled legislature did just that recently when it became the first state anywhere that mandates the media be given notice of third party subpoenas.

Montana already has a shield law that gives absolute privilege for protection of confidential sources. The new law strengthens the shield so that it now covers third-party records.

"While a few shield laws, like those of Connecticut, Maine, and California, explicitly protect journalists' third-party records with a qualified privilege - one that can be overcome under clear circumstances - Montana seems to be the first to extend an absolute privilege to these records," says Gregg Leslie, legal defense director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in Washington, D.C. (quoted by the Pointer Institute).

Montana legislators have recognized the close relationship between a free press and a free society. This recognition seems to elude Hawaii legislators. During the 2015 legislative session, House Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads took a bill that would have given strong "qualified" protection to the press and diluted those protections to the point that it would have taken away common law protections currently in place.

The most egregious changes proposed by Rhoads involve "unpublished information," or information gathered but not used in a news story. The law supported by the Hawaii Shield Law Coalition includes comprehensive protections for confidential and non-confidential information - protections essential for a strong shield law to work. But Rhoads, together with the Attorney General's Office, wants to severely limit those protections. In effect, Rhoads is embracing the Attorney General's position that if there's no confidential source involved, unpublished information--such as journalist notes or television news outtakes--should be disclosed under penalty of imprisonment or fine.

This is misguided and simply ignores the reality of newsgathering. It is a profound step backward from the hard-fought court cases won by the news media over the past 30 years. Here's what the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals says about unpublished information:

We discren a lurking and subtle threat to journalists and their employers if disclosure of outtakes, notes and other unused information, even if non-confidential, becomes routine and casually, if not cavalierly compelled.

First Amendment Attorney Jeffery Portnoy describes unpublished information as the "lifeblood" of journalists. What Rhoads is proposing is intended to such the life out of enterprising journalists and does exactly the opposite of what the Montana legislature did.

"States can, and should pass laws protecting the press, especially in this era of technology," says Montana State Rep. Daniel Zolnikov.

Hawaii's shield law bill is currently in limbo in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Media Council Hawaii has taken the position that it should die there unless lawmakers can agree that a strong shield law that protects the right to know should be enacted. Hawaii can, and should, take its lead from Montana.

Net Neutrality Wins the Day

This is a historic day in the life of the Internet in America.

Media Council Hawaii applauds the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote for an open Internet in America by classifying broadband service as a public utility. The new "net neutrality" rules, which were approved by a 3 to 2 vote along party lines, will prevent providers of high-speed Internet access from blocking websites they do not like or creating fast lanes to those who can afford it and slow lanes for those who can't.

The New York Times quoted Chairman Tom Wheeler as saying that the FCC will use "all the tools in our toolbox to protect innovators and consumers" and preserve the Internet's role as a "core of free expression and democratic principles."

The Free Press, a public interest advocacy group in Washington, D.C., called it an "incredible victory" in the face of major opposition from corporate cable and phone companies. Free Press praised the grassroots effort that led to this decision, but warned that cable and phone companies such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable will be "relentless in their efforts to knock it down."

So be prepared to fight like hell to protect this victory and for the strongest possible policies to protect a free and open Internet. As Free Press puts it, "this isn't the end. This is the start of something huge."

The Media Monopoly Grows


Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.

A. J. Liebling

Oahu Publications to buy 2 Hawaii Island daily papers

By Star-Advertiser staff

Oahu Publications Inc. announced today that it has agreed to acquire the Hawaii Tribune- Herald (Hilo) and West Hawaii Today (Kona) on Hawaii Island from Las Vegas-based Stephens Media LLC.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but Dennis Francis, Oahu Publication's president, said both newspapers will continue to be published daily and will be editorially independent from the company's daily newspaper on Oahu, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The transaction will close Dec. 1.

"We are pleased to bring local management and ownership to these two quality newspapers," said Francis, who is also publisher of the Star-Advertiser, "and our first priority will be to ensure that the two newspapers continue to serve the needs of their communities."

"We purchased The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai last year under similar circumstances, and that turned out to be a good experience," Francis said. "It was good for the newspaper, good for employees and good for the residents of Kauai. We were able to bring back the Saturday edition, improve technology for the digital edition, and ensure the needs of the community would be served by a strong daily newspaper on Kauai for decades to come."

As for the Hawaii Island papers, "We're publishers and we are always interested in taking a look at an opportunity," Francis said. "We are committed to ensuring that each island community retains a strong, local newspaper."

Francis said that the two newspapers' editorial and advertising sales functions will continue under existing staff, and that the papers will continue to be printed at the West Hawaii Today printing facility in Kona.

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald has a circulation of 16,000 Monday-Friday and 18,000 on Sunday. West Hawaii Today's circulation is 10,000 Monday-Friday and 12,000 on Sunday. Subscribers to the two papers will have free access to premium content at and

As part of the deal, Oahu Publications is also buying Stephen's interest in

"We want Hawaii Island residents and readers of both newspapers to know that Oahu Publications is committed to quality journalism and maintaining the excellent relationship that both papers have with their communities," Francis said.

In a related transaction, Sound Publishing, a subsidiary of Black Press, purchased the Aberdeen, Wash., Daily World and three weekly newspapers from Stephens in Washington state. That transaction closed today.

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Media, Money & Democracy: Political Campaign Advertising and Hawaii Television News in the 2012 Elections

In March, Media Council Hawaii and Common Cause Hawaii released their study, "Media, Money & Democracy: Political Campaign Advertising and Hawaii Television News in the 2012 Elections." The study shows that Hawaii voters saw more ads than information when watching televised news broadcasts just prior to the primary and general elections in 2012. Not surprisingly--the news media does not like to talk about how its business intersects with news coverage--the study got little attention in mainstream print and television news. But, we're in the middle of another election cycle, and it seems the study is as relevant as ever. So, if you're interested you can find the study here along with a companion news release from Chris Conybeare, president of Media Council Hawaii, about the study. Media Money release 3.29.14

Media and Money Project report 3.20.14Media and Money Project report 3.20.14

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Journalists are losing access, but the public still expects the story | Poynter.

Are the media losing the fight to cover the news in the face of escalating efforts by government and private companies to limit access to information. Read what Butch Ward of the Poynter Institute has to say: Journalists are losing access, but the public still expects the story | Poynter..

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Public's Right to Open Court Proceedings

Here's a link to the Hawaii Supreme Court's ruling in Oahu Publications v. Ahn. It's an important case that everyone, including reporters who cover the courts, should read for what it says about Hawaii's tradition of open proceedings and why actions by Ahn in the past and Ahn's decision to conduct a closed chamber conference to conduct a retrial for Christopher Deedy is of concern (see our earlier post, The Sleeping Watchdogs).

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U Win Tin: Courage and Inspiration

7A47A47A4by Chris Conybeare, President, MCH  

On April 21, 2014, Burma journalist and democracy advocate, U Win Tin died at age 85. He was arrested in 1989, imprisoned and subjected to torture for speaking out against the military regime and in support of human rights. He was finally released in 2008, having become a worldwide symbol of courage.

U win Tin was the chief editor of the Hanthawathi news paper and among the leading members of the National League for Democracy (The NLD is the Party of Aung San Suu Kyi.). The military rulers continually added to his sentence. So that an initial 3 year sentence was eventually extended to 20 years!

Despite declining health and enduring some of the world’s worst prison conditions, U Win Tin continued to write, using ink made from brick dust, he wrote poetry, and commentary. He wrote a report documenting prison conditions that was smuggled to the outside world and was incorporated in the report of the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma.

U Win Tin was awarded the prestigious Golden Pen Award in 2001 and has received numerous other accolades for his journalism and leadership in the struggle for democracy. Media Council Hawaii made him an honorary member of its Board of Directors in 2007.

He was offered release from prison if he would sign a pledge to withdraw from the NLD and cease activities as a journalist. An offer he steadfastly refused. Even when it was apparent that he and other political prisoners would be freed, it is reported that he protested being released without concurrent dropping of all charges against him.

He was finally released from jail in 2008,and in 2009, Media Council Hawaii was proud to have him speak at its Sunshine Week, Media Justice Conference, via SKYPE. When asked; “What are the most important qualities for a young aspiring journalist?” he replied, “A journalist should be part of the community and tell the truth!”

I met with U Win Tin in Yangon in 2010 and asked him about the changes taking place, and the regimes promise to transition to democracy. He answered, “They say there is light in the tunnel, but we do not know the source. What we really need to do is break out of the tunnel!”

His wisdom and courage should inspire all of us to a renewed commitment to ideals of freedom of communication and democracy. Our actions will be the best, most fitting and lasting tribute to this courageous journalist.

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