Monday, June 7, 2010

Score (another) one for the blogosphere!

6:15 AM (Tuesday) So the print Gazette put this ACLU spanking of school committee chairs for trying to censor blogs story on the Front Page--but, alas, below the fold. My friend Vladimir Morales hogged the above the fold location with an article about him getting the Select Board to endorse a boycott of Arizona (geeze, like how hard was that to do?) Just another typical 'Only in Amherst' idea, so naturally it attracts undue media attention.
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9:25 PM Gazettenet just put up tomorrow's edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette and it contains a "guest column" by
Michael DeChiara, chairman of the Shutesbury School Committee defending his idea to get the DA to issue a (restrictive) guidebook for public officials daring to use the open transparency and power of the blog.

The ACLU counter-letter railing against that Free Speech chilling idea could not have come at a better time. Let's hear if for the cavalry!
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1:15 PM
(hot copy)

Those White Knights of Freedom, the ACLU, has come to defense of the blogosphere--or at least Amherst School Committee member Catherine Sanderson's piece of it--with a common sense official letter of concern to the local District Attorney who was recently asked by five School Committee chairs to provide a legal opinion potentially shutting down the freewheeling discussion that takes place on blogs if maintained by public officials--that as an Amherst Redevelopment Authority member include me.

They share the tremendous concern of all of us who value the freedom and New World Order brought on by that great equalizer for Democracy, the Internet.

According to the dispatch signed by William Newman, Director ACLU western Massachusetts Law Offices and his legal partner Thomas Newman, "The Supreme Court has been unwavering that expression on public issues rests on the highest rung of the First Amendment values."

They also point out that which should be pretty obvious: "Blogs are completely open to the public for inspection and response. And where there are no secret meetings or deliberations by a quorum, there is no violation of the Open Meeting Law."

Even more to the point: "The goals of the Open Meeting Law, we suggest, are enhanced, not jeopardized, by the use of blogs by public officials, who invite public comment and debate and allow an elected official to state his or her views and to invite criticism and comment, much as elected officials regularly do when newspapers ask for , and then report, comments and positions of elected officials on pending issues."

And they conclude with "We urge the greatest caution in any formulation of the Open Meeting Law that might tend to compromise the guarantee of the First Amendment."

Or to quote Scottish Braveheart William Wallace's dying word (at least as enunciated by Mel Gibson): FREEDOM!

My initial breaking of this story


The Bully Reported (better late than never)

17 comments:

TomG said...

You know its got to burn the five chumps who challenged Sanderson's write to speak via her blog to be dealt such a convincing and conclusive smackdown by the ACLU.

The only question I have is whether they'll renew their memberships. And yes, I review mine promptly when the notice arrives.

"The goals of the Open Meeting Law, we suggest, are enhanced, not jeopardized, by the use of blogs by public officials, who invite public comment and debate and allow an elected official to state his or her views and to invite criticism and comment, much as elected officials regularly do when newspapers ask for , and then report, comments and positions of elected officials on pending issues."

Anonymous said...

Time to move on to Plan B (or is it Plan Z?)in the Regional Effort to Shut Up Catherine Sanderson.

TomG said...

Kudos to you Mr Kelley for not moderating the comments on your blog. Free speech for you and free speech for me. (Well, not exactly 'free' but you get the idea...)

S.P. Sullivan said...

I do wonder about how comment moderation affects the idea of a blog as being an open space, since theoretically a public official could censor comments they disagree with on their blog.

For the record I think officials blogging is an unequivocally good thing. That comment from TomG just got me thinking about the implications of comment moderation.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

So, I've given a lot of thought to comment moderation, and it is a tough one. I didn't do it for a while (like almost 2 years), and then got criticized for having some rude comments. So, now I moderate (review all comments before posting), and I get criticized for censoring (although I censor about 1 out of 100, and only when they are directly and personally attacking someone by name -- although there is no way to "prove" how many I don't publish). It is definitely a hard balance to strike -- Rick Hood has chosen to only publish comments that are named (e.g., not anonymous ones), and that is also censoring in that many people don't feel comfortable identifying themselves. I'm not sure what the right answer is here (although I don't think it is "no more blogs").

Anonymous said...

So did anyone find convincing Mr. DeChiara's claim that he is simply looking for legal clarity? Does anyone think that the inquiry would have come if, say, the entire blogging field consisted of Rick Hood alone?

TomG said...

" So did anyone find convincing Mr. DeChiara's claim that he is simply looking for legal clarity? "

No. It is self-evident bullshit.

DeChiara implies harm (a violation), which he must do to get the DA to look into it. He implies the blog has been used to subvert open meeting law without stating it was and without stating any of the 'alleged facts' about the 'alleged violation'. The law itself does not contemplate blogs so that his other angle.

His question, if it were sincere, would more likely have be posed to legal counsel with expertise in that area of law, not the DA who prosecutes crimes.

If I were the DA, that is how I'd respond. "Ask your lawyer or file a complaint. I am not private counsel."

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, since these days everybody seems to be looking to grab a headline, maybe the DA will actually come back with something; but even then that advisory opinion is only good until July 1 so not much of a shelf life.

The ACLU letter to the DA also stated early on:

"A preliminary word: Given the upcoming transfer of jurisdiction over the Open Meeting Law enforcement from the State's District Attorneys, we understand that your office may well feel that providing an advisory opinion at this time is not appropriate, and/or that the question posed should be more appropriately addressed or deferred to the Attorney General's deliberations; however if your office should choose to respond substantively to the questions..."

TomG said...

"I do wonder about how comment moderation affects the idea of a blog as being an open space "

The blog owner and moderator is the one who is afforded free speech according to the rules they set ...so if you post comments and they are moderated (not posted), you have no recourse but to post your comments on a blog you control. That seems to work to keep a conversation going when the original blog owner finds the comments out of bounds.

Anonymous said...

Heads up, everyone. Catherine censors posts that do not flame anyone but do express views opposite from hers.

AND, if the views agree with hers, she continues to post things that attack others...as long as they are attacking people she disagrees with they are posted.

So much for a free-wheeling blogosphere. I've noticed fewer and fewer posts on Catherine's blog that do not agree with her. I do not think that is because Catherine is censoring everyone...I think its because so many people have not had their comments posted (comments that do not flame anyone by name) that alot of folks have just given up.

I hope Catherine enjoys her blog of people who totally agree with her.

I prefer Larry Kelley's blog for its non-moderation!

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous June 8, 2010 7:28 PM: Take your meds and crawl back under the rock you just crawled out from.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree with Tom G completely. I have no problem that Sanderson keeps a blog. What I have a problem with is her comment moderation. Even comments that aren't at all inflammatory are not allowed on her blog. Again, her blog makes her look like she's winning a popularity contest, when in fact everybody I speak with in Amherst and surrounding communities cannot stand her and are certain that she is single-handedly bringing down Amherst schools.

Anonymous said...

Catherine is a blatant liar. I have made comments on her blog and have NEVER "directly and personally attacked someone by name". I've probably made comments 3-4 times and they've never appeared on her blog. I have a hard time understanding how that could ever amount to 1 in 100.

LarryK4 said...

So if I were moderating comments I would not have just allowed yours.

You libel Catherine Sanderson with only your anecdotal word regarding "facts" of the matter.

And, after all, YOU are an Anon. A Cowardly Nitwit one at that.

TomG said...

Larry, thanks for allowing anonymous commentators to post libel and character assassination without substantiation. I'd rather they say it here and be heard so that people can judge their opinion on the evidence they present.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah that's why I let them stand.

Big rule of journalism is to consider the source.

Ed said...

The more I think about this, the real question here is not if Catherine Sanderson violated the Open Meeting Law, but if the five chairs violated the Anti-Klan Act of 1871.

They are acting "under color of law" (as chairmen of their respective school committees) to try to prevent a citizen (Catherine) from exercising her "civil rights" as guarenteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. And this is exactly what the cops who beat up Rodney King back in '91 went to jail for.

And this makes more sense than any charge that she is violating the open meeting law....