Fickle Freedom Of Information

Larry Price
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Wednesday - March 23, 2005
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Sometimes the system of collecting information to disseminate to the public does not demonstrate a lot of common sense. Politics is probably the lowest priority, but receives the most space. Human suffering and homelessness probably have the weakest clout.

Just in the past month there have been some curious stories. I personally like stories that don’t make a lot of sense and contradict conventional wisdom. In many cases, if you are curious enough, you can find the answer on your own, but not always.

March 18 was officially Freedom of Information Day and also the birthday of James Madison, one of the key authors of the Bill of Rights and fourth president of the United States. The whole idea of the connection between freedom and information was showcased in fine self-serving style reminding everyone that they have a right to open government.

If you believe this is right, then you have probably never tried to find out what’s going on in government. There are many examples to tweak an argument on the “right to know.” For a moment forget about politics and political party agendas, union negotiations and how the Department of Education is going to deal with the “No Child Left Behind” federal mandate.

For educational purposes, try to find out the genesis of H.B. No. 1732. Treat the effort like an assignment for a journalism class credit. Go find out the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of H.B. No. 1732. On the surface, it’s a simple bill that attempts to limit the power of the governor to appoint members of the Labor Relations Board. In fact, the bill wants to increase the members of the Hawaii Labor Relations Board from six to 10, increase their terms from six to 10 years, and set the salary of the chairperson and the other two members. Furthermore, the bill begs that persons who are members of the board on July 1, 2005, shall have their existing terms extended from six to 10 years and shall continue to serve until their successors have been duly appointed and confirmed.

Why is a bill like this so important? The prescribed answer is because cumulative experience and continuity in office are essential to the proper administration of the Labor Relations Board. Said another way, to limit the power of Gov. Lingle’s administration in dealing with conflict. Is there any evidence this is true? Well, they have similar bills in the Legislature to do about the same thing with the UH Board of Regents, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Judicial Selection Committee. Obviously, politics are pretty boring — important, but boring.

What about a story that has pushed all of your emotional buttons? A real sad story about a severely abused and tortured child in Puna. Try to get the information that explains what happened to this poor child. Start with Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children. It won’t work, because they can’t release any information because of the child’s privacy rights. Call the Hilo Police Department and try to find out if anyone has been charged or arrested in the case. They can’t say, because the case is under investigation. It seems no one cares what happened to the child in this brutally sad case.

Ask yourself why no one cares. Now think about how fickle the public craving for information really is. Do you remember Hokget, the Jack Russell terrier who was rescued from an abandoned Chinese freighter, the Insinko 1907, April 26, 2002? Not only did she get rescued, she had the famous Henry Kapono write a song about her! Dr. Becky Rhoades, a veterinarian and head of the Kauai Humane Society, carried Hokget to safety in her arms. Hokget even received a lei in the process. Jay Leno wanted to fly her to Los Angeles as a guest on his latenight talk show. After the rescue, the 3-year-old dog was sitting in her carrier in a first class seat on Aloha Airlines headed for adoption and a new home with Michael and Helen Kuo. To further demonstrate the public’s heartfelt support, the Hawaiian Humane Society raised more than $48,000 in a couple of days to aid in the rescue.

The logical question is, in the pursuit of freedom and information, how is it that news outlets can get all excited about a dog and not about a terribly abused child? The safety of children has to be at least as important as the safety of a dog.

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