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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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.