Civil Beat law center will offer free legal help to journalists, others seeking public information

Honolulu Civil Beat

The news organization Honolulu Civil Beat Wednesday announced the creation of a center to help journalists and private individuals pry information out of government agencies in Hawaii.

The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, which will offer this assistance gratis, is funded in part by the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Ohana Fund. Pierre Omidyar is one of Civil Beat's founders and also founded eBay.

Hawaii's bureaucracy has proven remarkably resistant to transparency measures, Civil Beat editor Patti Epler writes in a post announcing the center, and the "only real recourse for journalists or the public is to go to court to force the issue."

But the cost of legal action is very often a deal breaker. The public as well as the media has let the agencies off the hook because it's just too expensive to follow through with a lawsuit.

The center has no connection to Civil Beat except its name, Epler writes. Brian Black will run the center. "[H]e's not our attorney," she said. "He's yours."

Hawaii's media shield law expired earlier this year after its legislature could not agree on proposed changes by state Sen. Clayton Hee. Hee proposed that only news organizations with subscriptions or a specific business model could be covered under the bill and distributed the famous photo of Harry Truman holding The Chicago Tribune with the headline "Dewey Defeats Truman" to the committee. He told Poynter he was trying to illustrate the fact that news reports could be inaccurate.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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