Press Coverage and Commentary

NEFAC receives considerable press coverage each year for its consistent advocacy of freedom of information and First Amendment concerns. Below are links to stories we’ve appeared in during the current year. Coverage from previous years can be seen here:

2010 | 2011 | 201220132014201520162017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021

The 2022 New England Muzzle Awards | GBH News 6.29.22

Bellows told state legislators that the new law would ban 421 of the 120,000 vanity plates in circulation. Plates could be recalled for obscene language, racist content and references to genitalia, among other things. “You can’t escape the proliferation of the F-word,” Bellows told an interviewer, but added: “If you can’t say it on the 6 o’clock news, it shouldn’t be on a license plate. If you really want an offensive slogan on your car, then you can use a bumper sticker.” . . . Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the guidelines are “unconstitutionally broad and vague,” thus inviting lawsuits against the state.

How Often is Vermont’s Open Meeting Law Violated? | WCAX 6.10.22

Justin Silverman, with the New England First Amendment Coalition, says the lack of apparent data could pose a risk. “We as citizens need to know how many complaints are being filed against agencies under the open meeting law each year,” Silverman said. “The Open Meeting Law is an incredible tool for citizens to use to get that kind of access to its government. However, this law does more than create transparency in government. Silverman says it protects active participation in these meetings. “It’s important for all public officials to provide that opportunity for their constituents to be heard at these meetings and vocalize their thoughts and opinions on important matters,” Silverman continued.

Wu Not Always Living Up to Transparency Promises | CommonWealth 6.5.22

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said he was dismayed by the city’s recent track record. “There’s no excuse for ignoring public records requests,” he said. “Citizens are entitled to transparency. The law requires it. If the city is unable to manage the volume of requests it receives, then it needs to make changes to how it operates. It needs to find a way to make open government more of a priority.”

A Victory in the Constant Fight for the Public’s Right to Know | Bangor Daily News 6.2.22

“Whether we grant the state’s public records ombudsman powers to enforce the law or provide statutory incentives such as mandatory attorney fees for prevailing plaintiffs, we need better tools to protect the public’s right to know,” Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, wrote in a BDN column earlier this year. That is just as true after this ruling as it was months ago. Because, unfortunately as we’ve seen in this case and other instances, officials and institutions often lean on the litany of exceptions that can limit the FOAA’s reach. Rather than erring on the side of disclosure and transparency, we’ve observed an inclination to stretch these exceptions and withhold information.

Keep Public Meetings Online | The Sun Chronicle 5.31.22

Eight groups — the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the Disability Law Center, the ACLU of Massachusetts, Boston Center for Independent Living, Common Cause Massachusetts, MassPIRG, the New England First Amendment Coalition and the New England Newspaper and Press Association — have joined together to support the effort to make hybrid participation permanent. The groups argue that remote meetings preserved public bodies’ ability to operate, but also “opened the door to civic engagement for members of the public and many people who had previously been shut out,” including seniors with mobility issues, people with disabilities, parents with young children, people with elder care and adult care responsibilities, people who can’t drive or afford taxis or rideshares, people with chronic medical conditions, and people who just want to know more about their government. “Remote access is the latest instance of universal design — alongside curb cuts, elevators, closed captioning, audiobooks, and other features — that began as accommodations and expanded to universal popularity,” the groups wrote. “Like these innovations and others emerging during the pandemic, remote access to public meetings should become a permanent feature.”

Can HUPD Reform? | The Harvard Crimson 5.29.22

NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman said HUPD can make incident reports available to the public while still protecting sensitive information. “You can address that concern by allowing for certain information to be withheld or for certain redactions to be made, similar to how that can occur under our state’s public records law,” Silverman said. “They can continue to write very detailed reports.”

Mandatory Virtual Access to MA State Government Ends July 15 | MetroWest Daily News 5.17.22

“Over these last two and a half years of remote access, they have been able to engage with government and engage with their elected officials in ways they never could before,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “It’s not just about government accountability, it’s also about equity and fairness in making sure that all citizens — regardless of their circumstances — have an opportunity to engage with government and see how their officials are acting on their behalf,” Silverman said. . . . Even though “remote access has been a game changer and attendance has increased,” in-person access allows another level of accountability that can’t always be achieved remotely,” said Silverman. Remote meetings have the potential for public officials to “stifle public conversation, to limit public comment, and to really restrict the ways in which the public can engage with them online,” he said. For Silverman, the goal is to “provide more access” and ensure that “all citizens have access” and to “not resort back” to the practices in place prior to the pandemic, where a “large segment of the population” were “shut out” from in-person government proceedings.

Investigation Into Canaan Police Use of Force Released | Union Leader 5.14.22

Authorities have released a 17-page report into the use of force by former Canaan police officer Samuel Provenza during a November 2017 arrest. The release follows a New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling last month. The high court determined that the investigation by an outside consultant into an excessive force complaint is a public record that should be released under the New Hampshire Right-to-Know Law. It contains a small number of redactions. The ACLU-New Hampshire represented the Lebanon-based Valley News newspaper in fighting for the release. The Union Leader Corp. and the New England First Amendment Coalition filed an amicus brief on behalf of the newspaper.

A Win for the Public: Right to Know Prevails | Union Leader 4.29.22

Attorney Gregory V. Sullivan, representing the Union Leader and the New England First Amendment Coalition, filed a friend of the court brief, also arguing on behalf of the public’s right to know what is being done in the public’s name.

Executive Producer Raney Aronson-Rath Honored with First Amendment Award | Frontline 4.13.22

On Wednesday night, FRONTLINE Executive Producer Raney Aronson-Rath was honored at the 12th annual New England First Amendment Awards with the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award. According to the NEFAC’s official announcement, the Stephen Hamblett Award is named after the late publisher of The Providence Journal and is given each year to an individual who has “promoted, defended, or advocated for the First Amendment throughout his or her career.”

How a N.H. Woman Used Public Records to Expose an Illegal Land Sale in Webster | NHPR 4.11.22

A Webster resident used New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know law to unearth evidence of the illegal sale of town land to a public official last year. Tara Gunnigle and her husband Jon Pearson’s quest for public records led to the resignation of Webster’s former town treasurer. Now, she’s being recognized by the New England First Amendment Coalition for her work.

T&G Police Lawsuit Wins Freedom of Information Award From NEFAC | Telegram & Gazette 4.5.22

The coalition — a nonprofit that works to defend First Amendment rights throughout New England — cited the newspaper’s “landmark” win that resulted in the first award of punitive damages in Massachusetts under a law penalizing entities that withhold records in bad faith. “This is a shining example of accountability journalism and an inspiration to other newsrooms fighting their own public record battles,” Justin Silverman, the coalition’s executive director, wrote in a statement.

Governor’s Council Fades to Black | The Boston Globe 4.4.22

And into this fray comes a coalition that believes it’s actually a good thing for the cameras to keep on rolling. It includes the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the New England First Amendment Coalition, the Disability Law Center, and the League of Women Voters, all looking to promote a little transparency. “The people deserve to know what their government is doing, including the Governor’s Council’s important work,” the group wrote in a letter following this week’s meeting. “The decision to discontinue online streaming of Governor’s Council meetings should be reversed and remote access should be made permanent and routine for all public meetings.”

A Pandemic-Driven Change Worth Keeping | The Harvard Press 4.1.22

Co-sponsored by more than five dozen legislators, including Harvard’s Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Dan Sena, the measure has the backing of the New England Newspaper and Press Association, the Massachusetts ACLU, and the New England First Amendment Coalition. The bill would require boards and committees to offer both remote and in-person access to their proceedings, though it contains provisions for public bodies that due to “economic hardship” and “despite best efforts” are unable to comply.

Motion to Restore Governor’s Council Livestream Dies Without a Second | Boston Herald 3.30.22

Several organizations have expressed support for restoring the livestream, including the ACLU of Massachusetts, Common Cause Massachusetts, the Disability Law Center, and the New England First Amendment Coalition. “Remote access has opened the door to civic engagement for many people who had previously been shut out,” the groups said in a joint statement. “The decision to discontinue online streaming of Governor’s Council meetings should be reversed, and remote access should be made permanent and routine for all public meetings.”

How to Make a Public Records Request? Ask Your Town Clerk | Wicked Local 3.30.22

In April, the New England First Amendment Coalition will honor the Worcester Telegram & Gazette with its 2022 Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award. The FOI Award is given each year to a New England journalist or team of journalists for a body of work from the previous calendar year that protects or advances the public’s right to know under federal or state law, according to a statement from the coalition. Preference is given to those who overcome significant official resistance. The Telegram & Gazette began what would become a multi-year legal battle against the Worcester Police Department for access to internal affairs reports in 2018. A judge ruled in its favor last year and in January of this year awarded punitive damages — the first time a court has done so since the Massachusetts public records law was reformed in 2016, according to the coalition.

Mass. Lawmakers Discuss Remote Voting Beyond Pandemic Emergency | State House News Service 3.28.22

“Across the Commonwealth, remote access to public meetings has significantly increased public participation in state and local government, and has lowered longstanding barriers for people with disabilities, people with limited access to transportation, and people with work and family obligations,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Boston Center for Independent Living, Common Cause Massachusetts, Disability Law Center, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, MASSPIRG, New England First Amendment Coalition and the New England Newspaper and Press Association said in a joint statement last week.

Expand Ability to View Public Meetings Remotely | The Lowell Sun 3.26.22

Given the interest generated by its online availability, a range of groups, including the ACLU of Massachusetts, Boston Center for Independent Living, Common Cause Massachusetts, MassPIRG, the New England First Amendment Coalition, and the New England Newspaper and Press Association, have urged the Governor’s Council to resume streaming their weekly meetings.

More Reminders of the Shortcomings of Maine’s Freedom of Access Law | Bangor Daily News 3.24.22

Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, discussed this case in a recent BDN column along with a recent Maine Freedom of Information Coalition survey that asked Maine law enforcement agencies to provide the number of complaints made against their officers since 2016. Nearly half of these agencies failed to provide any information or respond at all, despite FOAA requirements, Silverman said. . . . “Under the current law, there is little recourse when that data are denied other than to file a lawsuit. Most citizens (and most newsrooms) lack the time and money needed to sue agencies for records they are entitled to under FOAA,” Silverman said. “Whether we grant the state’s public records ombudsman powers to enforce the law or provide statutory incentives such as mandatory attorney fees for prevailing plaintiffs, we need better tools to protect the public’s right to know.”

Pressure Mounts on Governor’s Council to Restore Livestream, Causing Tense Meeting | Boston Herald 3.23.22

Since the Herald broke the news earlier this month that the Council is no longer livestreaming, several organizations have called on the group to restore its livestream. Those groups include the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Disability Law Center, the New England First Amendment Coalition and the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.

A Newton Couple Were Ordered to Remove Their Political Yard Signs | The Boston Globe 3.23.22

Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said political speech “is at the very top of the spectrum of protection” under the Constitution. “Under the First Amendment, they as government officials should not be in a position where they’re deciding what is, or is not, permissible speech,” Silverman said. . . . Silverman, with the First Amendment Coalition, said that generally, governments shouldn’t be setting the rules for free speech. “If there is a bedrock principle to the First Amendment, it’s that government should not be determining for us what is offensive, what is vulgar, and what speech should not be said,” Silverman said.

NEFAC’s Justin Silverman Discusses Sunshine Week (audio) | The Marcus Ferro Show 3.19.22

Marcus Ferro at WBSM-New Bedford interviews Justin Silverman of the New England First Amendment Coalition about “Sunshine Week” and why it’’s important to demand a more accessible and transparent government.

Massachusetts Questioned on Listing Problem Police Officers | Associated Press 3.19.22

The New England First Amendment Coalition said there needs to be a baseline expectation about what kind of consistent information the public can get about police officers.

Nesi’s Notes | WPRI 3.19.22

It’s Sunshine Week — and not just because of that U.S. Senate vote. The New England First Amendment Coalition’s Justin Silverman laid out why transparency matters in this op-ed: “Every American should be waving the banner for government transparency. The consequences of secrecy affect not just our ability to have good-faith debates about the issues that matter most, but they also limit our ability to oversee government and the work it does on our behalf. When it comes to transparency, we’re all stakeholders.” Silverman will also be moderating a virtual forum on Wednesday about the future of online public meetings in Rhode Island, featuring John Marion, Scott Pickering, Liz Tanner and Jordan Day.

Groups Call for Making Online Meeting Access Permanent | State House News Service 3.18.22

The ACLU of Massachusetts, Boston Center for Independent Living, Common Cause Massachusetts, MassPIRG, the New England First Amendment Coalition, and New England Newspaper and Press Association also signed the letter, delivered as part of “Sunshine Week” efforts to promote open government and access to public information.

N.H. Released a List of Problem Police Officers. No List Exists in Massachusetts | Telegram & Gazette 3.18.22

“There needs to be a baseline expectation from the public about what kind of consistent information we can get about our police officers,” Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said Thursday.  . . . Silverman, the NEFAC leader, said it is important for state leaders to prioritize the consistent release of public information, especially concerning police who have broken public trust. “We have a right to know who those officers are,” he said. “They’re working in our communities, and if we don’t know, it’s really difficult for us to have confidence in the system, and to hold them accountable.”

Shedding Light, Promoting Truth are Right in Our Wheelhouse | Newtown Bee 3.17.22

In closing, we are reminded by our colleague and New England First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Justin Silverman that the mission of Sunshine Week is to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. The sunshine reference is attributed to US Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who famously wrote that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” This is the idea behind state public record and open meeting laws, as well as our federal Freedom of Information Act. Government transparency is a non-partisan principle that transcends who’s in office or which political party is in control.

Let the Sun Shine in On Open Government and Freedom of Information | Daily Item 3.16.22

We join the New England Newspaper & Press Association and New England First Amendment Coalition in marking “Sunshine Week” focused on open and easily-accessible public meetings. . . . Coalition Executive Director Justin Silverman expanded on this goal by noting how late Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis used a metaphor to describe government transparency’s importance. “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” Brandeis said. Open government and unfettered freedom of information, in his view, are the best ways to keep democracy free from corruption and despotism.

When Government Controls All Information, Citizens Aren’t Free | Keene Sentinel 3.15.22

During this year’s Sunshine Week, March 13 through 19, we should remember, as the New England First Amendment Coalition points out, that “no matter where we stand on a particular topic, we all need accurate information to shape our opinions and best advocate for ourselves.” . . . Sunshine Week was launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors — now News Leaders Association. Its mission, NEFAC reminds us, is to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. The sunshine reference is attributed to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who wrote that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Informed citizens are the best defense against government corruption. When they cannot be physically present to gain access to meetings and records, a free press should be able to stand in for them. Journalists are among the most frequent filers of public records requests, NEFAC says. . . . Access to information is something we in the United States take for granted. “But despite the mandated sunshine, shadows persist,” writes Justin Silverman, executive director of NEFAC. “Public record request deadlines are often ignored. Inadequate staffing and request backlogs result in delays. Documents are excessively redacted. Citizens are shut out of public meetings. The flow of information can be slowed to a glacial pace.”

Government Accountability Workshops Held During Sunshine Week | Concord Monitor 3.14.22

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides for the “right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” But what does that mean and how does it work? On March 14, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and the New England First Amendment Coalition are celebrating Sunshine Week with an expert, online panel discussion, Keeping the Light On: Holding Government Accountable.

Eagle-Tribune | Newport This Week | MassLive | Booth Bay Register | Caledonian Record | Greenfield Recorder | Newport Daily News | Daily Hampshire Gazette | Portland Press Herald | Valley Independent Sentinel | East Bay RI | Provincetown Banner | Gloucester Times | Wyoming Tribune Eagle | The Salem News | Wakefield Daily Item | The Chronicle | The Daily News of Newburyport | Wiscasset Newspaper | The Day | Business NH Magazine | The Berkshire Eagle | Concord Monitor | News and Citizen | The New Bedford Light | The Deerfield Valley News | The Other Paper | Shelburne News | Milton Times | The Valley Breeze

In honor of Sunshine Week, NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman wrote an op/ed explaining why Americans should all agree on government transparency despite the nation’s increasing polarization. The op/ed was published by many newspapers and online media outlets throughout the week.

Councilors Finally Approve ARPA Money with Virtually No Public Discussion | The New Bedford Light 3.10.22

Here’s what attorney Jonathan Albano on behalf of the New England First Amendment Coalition said about the council’s vote to take the detour into the email averages for spending the public’s money: “The Mass Open Meeting (law) applies to any communications, including email between a quorum of members. Here, council members basically ‘voted’ by sending individual emails to one councilor. That seems to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Open Meeting Law.”

Governor’s Council Ends Meeting Streams | Boston Herald 3.9.22

“That’s certainly a step backward, as far as government transparency is concerned,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, adding that live streaming technology has increased access for those with disabilities, busy journalists and working parents, for example.

NEFAC Speaks About Journalists’ Rights to Public Records in a World of Secrecy | Daily Collegian 3.9.22

The New England First Amendment Coalition’s Executive Director Justin Silverman spoke to students and faculty at the University of Massachusetts on Tuesday about journalists’ first amendment rights and access to public records. . . . Silverman started his interactive presentation by asking the audience to shout the five freedoms aloud: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. He cited a theory that states how each of the five freedoms work together “as a blueprint,” Silverman said. “Ideally these five freedoms all work together to give us the freedom we need to create the country that best serves us.”

Let the Sun Shine: Public Programs Set | Union Leader 3.6.22

Sunshine Week shines a light on the importance of open government and the dangers when government officials work in secret. Next Monday night, March 14, at 6 p.m., the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and the New England First Amendment Coalition will co-host an online discussion. Its theme is “Keeping the Lights On: Holding Government Accountable.”

Sun Journal | Bangor Daily News | Kennebec Journal

NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman discusses in an op/ed a recent survey of Maine law enforcement agencies, the concerning results and what steps can be taken in the future to improve police transparency in the state.

Michelle Wu Seeks to Ban Protesters From Demonstrating at Her Home | Boston Herald 2.28.22

Wu has some First Amendment law on her side, said Justin Silverman New England First Amendment Coalition, but he added that enforcement is a concern. “Even if it’s constitutional, it can be difficult for police to arrive on a scene with protesters and for them to determine if protesters are on the move or camped out in front of a specific residence,” Silverman said. “This type of ordinance can be difficult to enforce.”

On the First Amendment: Q&A with NEFAC’s Justin Silverman | Suffolk Law Alumni Magazine 2022

“It’s very easy to hear potentially dangerous speech and immediately call for more laws. But what we need to remember is that the more power we give to the government, the more likelihood there is for abuse. That’s really the crux of the First Amendment. It’s there to protect us from the government. So we have to consider, despite how well-intended any law could be, how is the government going to use that law? And ultimately, what’s the risk of that law being used against any kind of speech that the government finds objectionable, whether or not it’s actually incitement?”

Questions Persist in Case of Former Southcoast Health President Keith Hovan | The New Bedford Light 2.24.22

“The only way we can make sure that these hearings are operating in a fair and just way is if the public is able to oversee them in a way where the court is accountable for the decisions it makes,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. . . . Silverman of the New England First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit organization that seeks to expand public access to government, said the working group’s recommendations are a step in the right direction, but that they don’t provide a full solution. “The solution is more in line with what Representative Cabral is proposing,” Silverman said, “because it prioritizes transparency and our right to know what is occurring in our courts.” Though recognizing the COVID-19 pandemic has made things challenging, he said changes to how the state’s court system conducts these proceedings are long overdue. “You had the big series reported by the Boston Globe that showed all the inequities within the system,” Silverman said, “and here we are several years after that without any meaningful changes made.”

Boston Seeing Spike in Records Requests — and Complaints About Responses | Boston Herald 2.20.22

Justin Silverman of the New England First Amendment Coalition said the uptick in requests is no excuse for not responding to them. “That could be a factor, but if the law was being followed, there wouldn’t be very many appeals in the first place,” said Silverman, who said he’d heard complaints about Boston on this front from various reporters.

New R.I. Order No Longer Requires Remote Access for Many In-Person Meetings | The Boston Globe 2.18.22

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said Rhode Island has seen the benefits of remote access and participation for those unable to attend in-person meetings over the past two years. “Under this order, those concerned about COVID and choosing not to attend meetings can be shut out entirely,” Silverman said. “Those with disabilities, family commitments, work obligations, and other conflicts can also be denied access. Remote participation is not only about safety, but also about equity. This order simply doesn’t go far enough to guarantee the access we need.”

New McKee Order on Public Meetings Scales Back Remote Access | WPRI 2.18.22

Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said remote access is an equity issue. “During the last two years we have seen the benefits of remote access and participation for those unable to attend in-person meetings,” Silverman said. “Under this order, those concerned about COVID and choosing not to attend meetings can be shut out entirely. Those with disabilities, family commitments, work obligations and other conflicts can also be denied access. Remote participation is not only about safety, but also about equity.”

Galvin Bill Would Subject Governor’s Office to Public Records Law | CommonWealth Magazine 2.1.22

Justin Silverman. the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, believes that Healey’s reply does not fully respond to the question. “Healey’s response is ambiguous at best,” Silverman said. “It . . . does nothing to rebuke the use of Lambert to maintain secrecy within the governor’s office. There’s no reassurance here that, if she’s elected governor, Healey won’t cite the Lambert decision just as previous administrations have done.”

Judge Rules Worcester Acted in Bad Faith, Adds Punitive Damages | Telegram & Gazette 2.1.22

The city, whose political leaders often tout transparency, repeatedly questioned the newspaper’s motives for requesting the information, at one point alleging in a court filing that the paper made the request under the “guise” of its role as a societal watchdog. Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition (NEFAC), called an argument of that type “completely disrespectful of the role that journalists play in our community.” Silverman, whose organization defends and promotes public access to government, said Friday that while the ruling is a win for journalism, the historic nature of the punitive award underscores a grim reality. “We (at NEFAC) deal with people every day who are being stymied by public agencies that aren’t following the law,” he said, but because they don’t have the resources to file lawsuits, such conduct is never fully scrutinized. Silverman said while he’s encouraged by the $100,000 the judge awarded the newspaper in legal fees — an award the 2016 law contemplated by creating a presumption in favor of awarding such fees in successful lawsuits — most people denied records can’t afford to spend the time or money placing such a bet. And even though the T&G got the records it requested, Silverman noted, doing so took three years. “We need additional reforms so we don’t have to go through this multi-year process to begin with,” he said.

Concerns Emerge Over Bill Proposing Privacy Amendment | Portland Press Herald 1.27.22

Judith Meyer, representing the Maine Press Association, the New England First Amendment Coalition, the New England Newspaper & Press Association, the Maine Association of Broadcasters and the Society of Professional Journalists Maine, filed an objection to the bill on Thursday. “We understand the need for personal privacy, particularly from government intrusion, but we have grave concerns that the language contained here is overly broad and will implicate First-Amendment protected activities and entitlements under the Freedom of Access Act. Logistically, it will create havoc for businesses and organizations that collect and use personal information,” Meyer wrote in Thursday’s filing with the Judiciary Committee. Meyer said her groups recommend the legislation be revised to address “only governmental intrusion upon one’s privacy,” and not private intrusion. The term “private intrusion” can be interpreted to include the First Amendment-protected activities of news organizations, she said. Journalists rely on personal information, personal communications and a person’s thoughts as a standard part of news gathering.

Could Sarah Palin Be the Catalyst Who Tears Down Libel Protections for the Press? | GBH News 1.26.22

Taking a different view was Justin Silverman, a lawyer who is executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “Just because Loughner didn’t use the map as motivation, [that] doesn’t mean that readers of the NYT weren’t told that he did — which arguably is the same as being told that Palin incited the violence and is responsible for that violence by publishing her map,” he said in an email. Silverman added: “By incorrectly saying that Loughner was motivated by the map, isn’t the NYT also incorrectly saying that Palin incited Loughner by publishing it?” Nevertheless, Silverman said the Times should prevail if it is able to prove that its errors resulted from “sloppy journalism” rather than actual malice.

State Trooper Sues Vt. Human Rights Commission, Newspaper Over Discrimination Report | VTDigger 1.23.22

An attorney specializing in First Amendment law, Greg Sullivan, said Seven Days’ story is protected by the Fair Report Privilege — a defense to journalists who fairly summarize government reports or official statements. “Even if the government action contains defamatory material, the Fair Report Privilege will protect the press,” said Sullivan, who teaches First Amendment and media law at Suffolk University in Boston and is a board member of the New England First Amendment Coalition. The Vermont Supreme Court has recognized this privilege, Sullivan said, and in this case, Vermont law would be applied even though Leise’s lawsuit is filed in federal court. The privilege would apply regardless of how the media obtained the official reports or statements, he said.

Principal Who Went on Leave Last March Appears to Still Be on Payroll | MetroWest Daily News 1.18.22

Refusing to comply is illegal under Massachusetts law, but public officials rarely face meaningful penalties because the supervisor cannot enforce her own orders. Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition in Westborough, said the situation displays a weakness of Massachusetts public records law. “You have a public records request being made, you have a denial inappropriately given, you have the Supervisor (of Public Records) saying these records must be released, and you have an agency at least partially disregarding that order,” said Silverman, who lives in Wayland. “This is one of the challenges we all face under the current law and it shows how difficult it is to access information we’re entitled to.” . . . Silverman, the public records advocate in Wayland, said not much can be done now, besides the newspaper going to court and fighting an expensive legal battle. “There’s a law here that’s not being complied with,” said Silverman. “That’s a problem and not something that we should tolerate as citizens.”

Pandemic-Driven Changes to Open Meeting Law Should Be Made Permanent | CommonWealth 1.17.22

In an op/ed, NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman describes how requiring both online and in-person access to government meetings will help Massachusetts journalists and the communities they cover. NEFAC endorsed An Act to Modernize Participation in Public Meetings (H.3152/S.2082) which requires both remote and in-person access to government proceedings.

Investigation Uncovers Inconsistencies in Data on Complaints Against Maine Police | WMTW 1.7.22

“To have this many police departments not respond at all I think is a gross violation of the public’s trust,” New England First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Justin Silverman said. Silverman said he was taken aback by the overwhelming lack of transparency. . . . Silverman expressed support for regulations to maintain data but also stressed the importance of existing freedom of information laws, which numerous departments flouted. “First, we need to make sure that law enforcement agencies are following the law, right? There’s no excuse for not responding to a public records request,” Silverman said. . . . Silverman was adamant that the information requested is critical for transparency. “What this study does present for those in Maine is an opportunity to acknowledge that we’re not getting the information that we need so let’s do something about it,” Silverman said.

McKee Signs Executive Order to Allow Remote Meetings Amid COVID Outbreak | The Boston Globe 1.6.22

The ACCESS/RI coalition called the issue “a matter of great urgency for open government.” They called on McKee to reinstate an order that would require live-streaming of public meetings and remote public participation. “Many residents of the state – in recognition of the large number of breakthrough infections being caused by Omicron – are legitimately and understandably reluctant to physically attend public meetings,” the coalition wrote in a letter to McKee in December. “Particularly for the state’s large elderly and immunocompromised population, even being masked and fully vaccinated is no guarantee of protection in crowded meetings in indoor settings.” ACCESS/RI includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Common Cause Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Press Association, and the New England First Amendment Coalition.