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:

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What the Heck is Going On With Some of These License Plates? | Bangor Daily News 5.9.21

In a recent Boston Globe article about the current conversation in Maine, Justin Silverman of the New England First Amendment Coalition had this to say: “When the state starts limiting speech based on what it considers offensive, we should immediately put our First Amendment guard up.”

Lawmakers Nix Proposal to Limit Public Access to Statehouse in 2022 | VTDigger 5.5.21

“Any proposal or any plan that’s being considered that shuts out the public entirely I think is a plan that should be abandoned and rethought,” said Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, an organization that advocates for government transparency and media organizations.

Maine Lawmakers Seek to Limit Crude Language on Vanity License Plates | The Boston Globe 5.5.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the state must respect constitutionally protected speech if it chooses to offer vanity plates. “When the state starts limiting speech based on what it considers offensive, we should immediately put our First Amendment guard up,” Silverman said. “Our constitution is wary of government deciding for the people what is and is not acceptable expression. Maine is not obligated to offer vanity license plates. But if it chooses to do so, it must respect constitutionally protected speech no matter how disagreeable.”

NEFAC Recognizes KSC Professor and Class | The Equinox 4.28.21

Salcetti and her students were honored at the 11th annual New England First Amendment awards for their efforts in a more than three-year battle against the City of Keene in a Right-to-Know lawsuit. This led to the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling in their favor on several points last June.

Maine Bill Would Mandate News Coverage | The Center Square 4.27.21

Justin Sliverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Center, told the committee that the proposal would “turn news organizations into an arm of the court system, forcing coverage newsrooms may not want – or need – to provide.” “This is antithetical to the First Amendment and curtails our freedom of the press to an unconscionable and unconstitutional degree,” he said. “Forcing news organizations to update stories in fear of civil liability may also ultimately discourage certain reporting altogether.”

1st Amendment Coalition Argues Against Mandatory Updating of News Stories | Rochester Voice 4.23.21

LD 923 — similar to failed legislation in New Hampshire and Rhode Island last year and a new bill in New Hampshire earlier this year — is “not only unconstitutional, it’s also unwise and undemocratic,” wrote NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman in written testimony submitted to the Maine State Committee on the Judiciary.

KSC Journalism Students, Professor to Be Honored for Public Records Work | Keene Sentinel 4.21.21

The New England First Amendment Coalition today will recognize a Keene State College journalism professor, and a group of her former students, for their work on an assignment that turned into a successful right-to-know lawsuit before the N.H. Supreme Court last year. Marianne Salcetti and students from her fall 2017 public affairs reporting class will be honored during the 11th annual New England First Amendment Awards, according to a news release from the Westborough, Mass.-based nonprofit.

Whistleblower Receives Award for Protest Over Public Records Issue | The Berkshire Eagle 4.14.21

The former chief of appeals and records access officer in the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is being honored for blowing the whistle over the DA’s order to withhold public records about a closed investigation in a politically fraught case. Jeanne Kempthorne, also the office’s former general counsel, has received the 2021 Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award from New England First Amendment Coalition. She will be honored at the coalition’s New England First Amendment Awards on April 21.

Bangor Daily News Wins New England Public Access Award | Bangor Daily News 4.7.21

The Bangor Daily News will receive an award from the New England First Amendment Coalition for its reporting on a lack of accountability among Maine county sheriff’s offices, the organization announced Wednesday.The newspaper will receive the coalition’s annual Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award, which is given to a New England journalist or team of journalists for work that protects or advances the public’s right to know, at an online awards ceremony April 21. Preference is given to reporters who overcome hurdles to access public information.

Mass. Lawmakers Debating Their Transparency Procedures — Behind Closed Doors | The Boston Globe 4.7.21

Massachusetts is “very much toward the bottom on transparency,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “There just doesn’t seem to be much political appetite to change this culture of secrecy and open up the Legislature at least to more scrutiny and more transparency.” . . . “We’re dealing with a lot of self-interest here,” Silverman said. “The very people that are going to be scrutinized more and perhaps criticized more are the very people that we’re counting on to change the law to make that happen.” . . . In 2016, Baker signed the first new public records law in decades. The law set new deadlines for furnishing public records and required that records be provided electronically in most cases. But those changes simply took Massachusetts “from bad to mediocre,” Silverman said.

ACLU-Vt. Files Amicus Brief Over Prisoners’ Alleged Inadequate Health Care | The Sun 3.24.21

The most notable official supporting the ACLU and HRDC is Secretary of State Jim Condos, a long-time outspoken advocate of government transparency. Along with Condos, Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer, the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office, and the New England First Amendment Coalition have joined the amicus.

Right to Know | Caledonian Record 3.23.21

This week the VT-ACLU, Human Rights Defense Center, New England First Amendment Coalition, Auditor Doug Hoffer and Secretary of State Jim Condos went before the Vermont Supreme Court to argue that records for health care provided to Vermont prisoners are public records.

ACLU Urges Vermont Supreme Court to Rule for Transparency in Prison Records Case | Vermont Biz 3.22.21

The ACLU of Vermont filed an amicus brief today, supporting HRDC’s position that the records at issue are subject to Vermont’s Public Records Act and must be disclosed. The ACLU’s brief is joined by Secretary of State Jim Condos, Auditor Doug Hoffer, the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office, and the New England First Amendment Coalition.

ACLU Urges Vermont Supreme Court to Rule for Transparency in Prison Records Case | VTDigger 3.22.21

Joining the ACLU’s brief were Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, Auditor Doug Hoffer, the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office and the New England First Amendment Coalition.

CT Fire Company’s Communications Officer Disputes Arrest | The ShoreLine Times 3.11.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said that while he couldn’t speak to the specifics of the law, he had concerns that criminal charges were brought against Frischling for photos that he said any member of the public could have easily taken.

New Bill That Targets Press is Part of a Nationwide Push | Sun Journal 3.5.21

“There’s no question this bill is unconstitutional,” Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said. He said the U.S. Supreme Court has laid out bright lines related to the freedom of the press that the proposal clearly violates. . . . Silverman said it is understandable why people might have an issue with newsrooms doing an incomplete job. The correct way to deal with that, he said, is to talk to editors and reporters to convince them to put a higher priority on making sure the outcomes of cases are given enough attention. The bottom line, though, is that it is a news organization’s prerogative to make those decisions, not the government’s, Silverman said.

Many South Shore Towns Rely on Private PR Firm to Disseminate News | The Patriot Ledger 2.26.21

New England First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Justin Silverman said these agencies work for the benefit of their clients and not in the best interest of the public.

State to Release Data on Scope of R.I. Unemployment Insurance Fraud | The Boston Globe 2.25.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said, “It is inconceivable that this information would implicate anyone’s privacy interests. But even if it did, the public interest in knowing how many Rhode Islanders are being defrauded clearly outweighs whatever minimal privacy interests there may be.” “If this were any of other crime being investigated, we would be receiving this information,” he added. “We are looking for data, not personal information – just two numbers. There is no reason why an ongoing investigation should prevent this data from being disclosed.”

MassHealth Employee Fired After Facebook Posts About Masks, Nazi Germany | Lowell Sun 2.23.21

Public employees should have the freedom to speak about issues in their communities, said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. Silverman added, “If they can do so without affecting the job they have in government, then I do think we should be taking every opportunity we can to make that happen and protect that speech.”

RI GOP, First Amendment Advocates React to Raimondo’s Rare Comments (Video) | WPRI 2.10.21

But Justin Silverman of the New England First Amendment Coalition argues that Raimondo’s decision to avoid the press is problematic, especially since she’s still the governor. “She is a sitting governor and there are a lot of very important questions that need to be asked of her,” Silverman explained.

McKee Refuses to Reveal Who Applied to Be RI’s New Lieutenant Governor | WPRI 2.4.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, argued Rhode Island voters should know who’s applying for such a potentially powerful job. Without that transparency, he added, Rhode Islanders will lose confidence in the process. “Only through open and public process can we be confident that the most qualified candidate will be chosen,” Silverman said. “We need to know who’s applying so we can have a better understanding of why certain applicants were given interviews while others were not. This type of transparency is needed in all corners of government, but it’s especially crucial when so much power and influence is at stake.”

Groups Call for Transparency on Beacon Hill | Gloucester Daily Times 2.3.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the Legislature is “notoriously secretive” and more transparency is needed. “Measures to open up the lawmaking process are long-overdue,” said Silverman, whose group hasn’t taken a formal position on the recommendations. “As citizens, we need more transparency to not only better understand how our government operates but to also keep tabs on our representatives and hold them accountable.”

Talking Politics: MIA GOV | Cranston Herald 1.27.21

Raimondo became a media darling due to her much-heralded pension overhaul in 2011, leading to outbreaks of “Raimondomania.” Now, though, with her posture set toward D.C., the Rhode Island Press Association and the New England First Amendment Coalition are among those calling on Raimondo to resume participation in news conferences, pointing to the need for her to provide information about COVID vaccination and other subjects.

Political Scene: Raimondo on Mute | Providence Journal 1.24.21

Neither the New England First Amendment Coalition nor the Rhode Island Press Association think that answer is sufficient and have called on Raimondo to break her silence. Although that is unlikely to happen, the transition to an unmuted governor may happen sooner than once expected.

A Sign of the Times? Artwork Called Into Question | Berkshire Eagle 1.22.21

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said there is good reason for the government declining to define what constitutes a work of art. “We, as a people, should be debating and discussing what art is and not looking to the government to decide that. Once you have a government making the distinction between what is art and what isn’t, you’ve given the government the power to censor expression. That’s something the First Amendment is against,” he said.

N.H. Legislation Would Make It Harder for the Public to Access Police Records | Media Nation 1.21.21

A bill filed in the New Hampshire legislature would make it more difficult for the public to access police records, reversing a recent decision by the state’s supreme court that requires greater openness. The New England First Amendment Coalition reports: Senate Bill 39 intends to exempt police personnel files, internal investigations and other law enforcement records from the New Hampshire Right-to-Know Law.

Walsh Gets COVID-19 Vaccine; Mayor’s Office Mum on Details | CommonWealth Magazine 1.21.21

The letter to her office was sent by the New England First Amendment Coalition and was endorsed by the director of the New England Newspaper & Press Association. “While your nomination to President-elect Biden’s Cabinet is a great honor that carries with it certain responsibilities, these must not be prioritized over your duties as governor,” said the letter. “Making yourself available for questioning by journalists — who serve as a proxy to the public — is one of those duties.”

Open Government, Press Groups Call on Raimondo to Answer Questions | Providence Journal 1.20.21

“With Rhode Island reeling from cases of COVID-19 and a need for timely and accurate health information, there is no substitute for direct access to the governor,” the executive directors of the New England First Amendment Coalition and the New England Newspaper & Press Association said in a joint statement Wednesday.

Groups Call for Raimondo to Hold Press Briefings | Providence Business Journal 1.20.21

The New England First Amendment Coalition is requesting that Gov. Gina M. Raimondo resume press briefings and allow direct questioning from journalists. The coalition, which sent the request in a letter to Raimondo Wednesday, took issue with the governor not making herself available for questioning from journalists since being nominated earlier this month for United States secretary of commerce. NEFAC stated the following in its letter: “While your nomination to President-Elect Biden’s Cabinet is a great honor that carries with it certain responsibilities, these must not be prioritized over your duties as governor.”

NEFAC’s Justin Silverman Discusses Raimondo, Press (Audio) | Dan Yorke Show 1.20.21

1st Amendment Group Asks Raimondo to Stop Avoiding Reporters | Associated Press 1.19.21

“While your nomination to President-elect Biden’s Cabinet is a great honor that carries with it certain responsibilities, these must not be prioritized over your duties as governor,” the New England First Amendment Coalition wrote in a letter Tuesday to Raimondo.“Making yourself available for questioning by journalists — who serve as a proxy to the public — is one of those duties,” the letter said.

Social Media Platforms Not Violating First Amendment (Video) | KOCO-Oklahoma City 1.11.21

“The First Amendment’s purpose is to protect us from government and not private companies like Twitter or Facebook,” said Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. He said constitutionally protected free speech is often misunderstood. “I think there is a broad misconception that the First Amendment allows us to speak freely wherever and however we want, and that’s not true,” Silverman said.

Expert Addresses Misconceptions About First Amendment (Video) | WMTW-Portland 1.11.21

As social media companies have suspended or banned President Donald Trump after last week’s riots at the U.S. Capitol, it has raised questions as to whether it impedes the First Amendment. “I think there is a broad misconception that the First Amendment allows us to speak freely wherever and however we want, and that’s not true,” New England First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Justin Silverman said. Silverman said that Twitter and Facebook, along with other private companies, have their own terms of service that users agree to, which allows the companies to decide who uses their platforms and under what circumstances.