LIHUE — Some Kauai County Councilmembers are defending a new rule that asks reporters and media organizations to provide a week’s notice to videotape or photograph one of their meetings.
That rule, which was approved by the seven-member board nearly two weeks ago and included in their governing guidelines and procedures for the next two years, also includes a provision that allows Council Chair Mel Rapozo to assign spaces to reporters that do not interfere “with the convenience of the council or its committees.”
The reason is to ensure order when big issues arise and several media outlets come to the chambers, as they did during the debate on Ordinance 960.
“That all started when the GMO issue came up,” Rapozo said. “Once you start getting all of those cameras set up, it affects the public from seeing what’s going on and being able to walk around the (Council Chambers) gallery. For me, it was never a big deal — if you come in with a camera, you come in with a camera. I don’t really care, but I think staff just wanted better control and to know who’s there.”
Media experts, say the provision may open the door to larger issues, such as whether online bloggers or media contributors would be required to follow the same rules, or whether media companies from other islands on a daily deadline may be able to provide a week’s notice and get the proper access.
“Whether this rule is a problem depends on how it is enforced,” said Jan TenBruggencate, a former Kauai bureau reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser. “If it is primarily a way to ensure access to the County Council by journalists, that’s one thing. If it is ever used to restrict access, that raises a host of legal and other problems.”
Councilman Gary Hooser had similar questions about the rule originally, including access for less traditional media.
“I did have some concerns about that, which is why we were hoping to have a proper discussion on the rule changes, but after looking at it, it doesn’t mean that you have to ask permission,” Hooser said. “I think the intent is, if you want to put your camera in a special place or have special provisions, you can submit that request, but it doesn’t prohibit anyone from taking pictures or video.”
Though the rule, which was proposed by County Clerk Ricky Watanabe and other council staff, may be a recent one for the County of Kauai, it is not necessarily a new one across the state.
The Hawaii County Council, on the Big Island, has a similar rule in which “members of the news media covering the business of the council or its committees may be assigned to selected areas by the chairperson.” Similar language also appears in the rules for the Honolulu City Council, which apportions certain areas within the board’s meeting room for media use. The Maui County Council has no specific rule that addresses media organizations or news reporters.
Former Councilman Jay Furfaro, who served as the chair for five years before Rapozo was confirmed about two weeks, informally adopted the rule while he served. The adopted rule is essentially putting an old practice on the books. Another part of Furfaro’s former informal rule allowed county staff to assign media outlets to specific areas in the Council Chambers.
“Without it, you can get into a touchy situation with asking people to leave their seats and so forth — you really have to create a level playing field for everybody even the media with camera equipment,” Furfaro said. “During some of the issues that were statewide issues, we had special groups lobbying for space, we had national TV requests and so forth, so to be fair to everyone, we asked them to put it in writing.”