ON Kilter: When government defines what’s free, be afraid

OPINION – From the raw beginnings of this nation’s founding, the unfettered flow of speech, information and press has been held to be one of the most vital constitutionally-protected processes necessary to freedom and accountability of government and society.  We can see the press at play in St. George and we must watch what our congress is doing under the deceptive moniker of a “Free Flow of Information Act” currently pending before both its chambers.

Locally

If you have been paying attention to the news regarding the election cycle here in St. George, you have seen last week’s showdown over allegations of Mayor Dan McArthur’s behavior towards some animal shelter volunteers.

Assertions of intimidation by the Mayor were quantified and reported irrefutably despite some who attempted to spin the allegations after the fact to be less than damning for the Mayor.

And most compelling was the fact that the Mayor did not deny the allegations as much as he acquiesced to the possibility that he was just misunderstood.

That is now in the hands of the voting public to decide.

I would offer that what you are witnessing in this year’s primary is an historic moment in St. George politics.

We’ve got ourselves a race.

What makes it historic is that for what appears to be a first time, there is not only a viable candidate opposing the lengthy tenure of the incumbent mayor, but also a full catalog of candidates whose platforms all thrive and drive especially on the notion of transparency.

In particular, however, are two candidates for the St. George City Council who have gone as far as to platform somewhat on a galvanizing issue that exposes the lack of transparency and perhaps calls for accountability in the current regime.

In truth, not much news there in comparison to larger local and national elections. This sort of thing happens in almost all elections across the country but it appears to be somewhat unique here, given it has yet to have happened much.

Let me state emphatically that I think it is a sad and pathetic representation of the voting public here that it took the issue of animal abuse to excite a citizenry enough to quite literally force the hand of the leadership to take swift and decisive action. There has been a plenitude of issues here that arguably should have had an equally galvanizing effect on voters:

Like the questionable spending of taxpayers money on a carousel.

Like the questionable ethics of elected officials being able to legally bid and obtain contracts on public projects such as the airport where in most other cities this would be flat out illegal.

But I digress here because less of concern to me here is the actual contention that has arisen from this showdown and more the fact that we have it at all.

Were it not for the local press, the broader public would not know about it and the concerns would likely continue unchecked. This points to the importance of free speech and a free press and an erosion of those freedoms on a national scale.

Nationally

Two bills before congress right now demand public awareness and, I would propose, opposition.

In the House, H.R. 1962, and in the Senate, S. 987, are parallel and substantially similar pending bills with the deceptive short title reference, “Free Flow of Information Act of 2013,”  seeking to redefine journalism in America.

An analysis made in an article written in the Electronic Frontier Foundation concludes that what is actually at play in these congressional bills is a response to the fallout from recent WikiLeaks and NSA leak scandals that led, illegally or not, to the outrage of an informed American public about the policies being enacted by the American government that allow spying on its own citizens and other countries.

The bills seek to narrow the scope of the definition of a journalist. For example, a journalist “covered” by the statute would now be restricted to a person or entity who engages in the practice “for financial gain or livelihood.” Since when is monetary compensation prerequisite to the investigation and dissemination of information to the public and for its best interest? Isn’t history filled with examples of publication of material aimed at motivating a public, informing that public, by concerned and determined people or entities – many times at risk and cost to themselves – with no “livelihood” remuneration involved?

Those who do not meet the proposed standards – one might call them credentials – would be subject to a diminished status, limiting their First Amendment Rights and possibly being subject to scrutiny or prosecution not only personally for what they say, but by extension their sources would be fair game as well.

Scared yet? You should be.

An online article in Gizmodo reports that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s email provider lavabit.com chose to shut down its entire business in light of pressure from the federal government to release information from Snowden’s account.

Scared now?

If we have learned anything from these leak scandals it is that while we fear being spied on in an increasingly acute technological and information age, we also simultaneously have become increasingly able to watch our government. And “they” don’t like it one bit.

What we are witnessing, if the allegations are correct, is a predisposition of the federal government to act upon these bills as though they are law before they are even passed and that the right to interrogate anyone or any entity involved with exposing the government is to be expected.

I have long lamented that the federal government, regardless of party or administration at the helm, has been engaging in the systematic eradication of our civil liberties.

The Patriot Act imposing unconstitutional laws of government power to wage war, spy on citizens, and detain anyone without cause was the precursor that laid the way for last year’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act. An Act, mind you, that contains very real language eradicating the most core tenet of our constitution: presumption of innocence.

I have also long contended our last line of defense is the First Amendment and a free press.

So, be afraid

As long as we have the ability to watch and report to the people what our governing officials are doing, we have a shred of freedom left with which to expose, eradicate, and replace people who are governing us.

This may soon be coming to an end.

If we were to put some skin on that here locally, we could pose the question like this:

What if the press here locally were legally subject to the level of journalistic scrutiny that these bills propose?

Would our story about the Mayor’s supposed intimidating tactics have even been allowed?

Now before you say “yes” or “no,” may I suggest you try in earnest to look at that question from a vantage point of liberty and not from one of your predisposition towards one candidate or the other?

It is perfectly natural to want your candidate to win. It is perfectly natural to scoff at reports of any misgivings about your preferred candidate, it “must be” a witch-hunt, right?

But would you really want to live in a nation, or a community for that matter, where the most important Amendment to the Constitution, the one which guarantees an outside check and balance and mode of accountability of our government, was governed by the very people it is in place to keep in check?

Be afraid of this bit of legislation they are trying to pass. Be very afraid.

See you out there.

 

Ed. note: According to GovTrak.us, the House bill, H.R. 1962, was introduced by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. There are currently 49 bipartisan co-sponsors of H.R. 1962, down from 50 as one withdrew; none of Utah’s representatives are sponsors. The Senate bill, S. 987, was introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.  There are currently 19 bipartisan co-sponsor; neither of Utah’s senators are sponsors.

Related posts

 

Dallas Hyland is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: dhyland@stgnews.com

Twitter: @dallashyland

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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18 Comments

  • Aric Cramer August 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Reprint his weekly please. Best Editorial of the year.

  • -d August 13, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    wow dallas. beautiful piece. thank you.

  • Ken August 13, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    I’m surprised that McArthur and Esplin haven’t tried to shut down STG News, they must own The Spectrum as that so called paper in completely worthless for unbiased reporting and would never rock the good ole boy boat!!!

    • My Evil Twin August 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      I am fully convinced you are right here Ken. If it wasn’t for STG News nothing would ever have come of this situation. The Spectrum certainly wouldn’t have had the integrity, or the intestinal fortitude to stand up for what is right, and print anything about it.

  • My Evil Twin August 14, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    What I find really sad, is that this is a very thought provoking article, not on a local level, as much as on a national level. And just how much thought has it actually provoked? Well, right now, not counting my comments, there are a grand total of three comments about it.
    Does anybody see anything outrageous about that fact alone? If we are so far gone that we are either too afraid or too apathetic to discuss this situation, then I truly believe we are lost as a free society.

  • Danny August 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Awesome piece Dallas

  • Perry August 15, 2013 at 8:19 am

    The discussion on the federal acts is though-provoking, but those bills are usually very long. The author offers very little context even of the small part he cites. What else is in the bill? Whart exactly will still be open to non-compensatory, freelance journalists? This author has a history of abstract and generic accusations without offering details as to why. Case in point: he slams the mayor and makes reference to ‘something he said,’ and yet there is no quote. And even when the mayor works to clarify himself, hyland still insists on hanging him. Well please, Mr. Hyland, just tell us how it is and don’t let us read the quote ourselves, cause we not only need your editorial, we need you to remove any detail or actual evidence for us. Then he says there is another great candidate. Now this is just spitballing, nonetheless hyland’s type of spitballing. But it looks like hyland could be slamming an official(which he has the right to do) in order to frame a pal of his for office. Now, this isn’t even serious, but its an example of the type of journalism hyland like to do in reference how he frames his claims. Abstraction only persuades the unwitting follower who doesn’t mind lack of detail. In such an abyss, We’ll see you out there.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic August 15, 2013 at 8:54 am

      Both the pending bills are hyperlinked, Perry, on first reference under the caption “Nationally.”

      I hope that helps.

      ST. GEORGE NEWS | STGnews.com
      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

    • Just an Observer August 15, 2013 at 9:24 am

      The Mayor slammed himself went he went to PAWS in the first place. It is sadly, business as usual for this local government hence his unwitting willingness not to have the savvy to see the implication of it until after he admitted to doing it and the public outcry thereafter. The editorial would have been quite a bit longer had the writer felt compelled to hold your hand and spell out details linked in the article which clearly, a witted fellow such as yourself can read. It is a bald assertion to state the writer removed any detail or evidence. Abstraction is an effective method of inciting conversation for sure, but there was no omission of fact in this article. Just an assumption that the intelligent reader would take it upon themselves to think, and perhaps look further into the matters written about.

  • Perry August 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Abstraction does start conversations, but if you want people to accept the position you are throwing out, especially public denouncement of individuals, then have the backbone to spell out why someone should care about your generic campaign against them. That’s what this guy does. He talks about how corrupt everyone is, uses the bold font to make short statements like, “be afraid” along with so many other what ifs. He’s like an opening dialogue to a tv show…that never really gets started with the specific story to be told because the overture voice never stops.
    Using Abstraction to make specific claims and asking the reader to draw specific conclusions is a courtesy and logical lapse, if not an ethical one. Look at well developed journalistic pieces, and the STG news has some well developed pieces by their other journalists. Theres less “listen to my general opinion” and more description of details and sources, then asking the auduence to draw their own conclusions. Don’t use your opinion column to make concrete claims about something that you can’t articulate. If its an opinion piece and not a researched piece with fairness and detail, at least try your hand with some humor in your opinion column so that people are laughing more often with you.

    • Just an Observer August 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      Perry,
      You missed the entire point of the article. It was a solid opinion piece that posed a very real question about what the state of affairs might be nationally and locally were the parts of these bills which limited the 1rst amendment rights we currently have to be limited in scope. The writer used a story written by another about the Mayor, not his own assertions to illustrate the point on a local and relative level. Your defense of the Mayor here is duly noted but is tantamount to whining and you are missing the entire point of the article. Let me guess, you’ve lived here a long time and the Mayor is a friend of yours?

      • Perry August 15, 2013 at 11:49 pm

        Never met the mayor, don’t care to. Lived here less than a decade. Being interested in journalism as part of the public sphere, my problem is the argumentative lapses by hyland. This isn’t to be cruel, but he really doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s a conspiracy theorist, which all of us are in our ways. But whenever I read this guy’s stuff I always ask myself, “now what exactly is this about????” He struggles to link claims with details. Basic writing and journalistic practices. His stuff could never survive in a commercial market newspaper. His articles are blog entries. I really do mean this as constructive feedback to get the guy to operate differently if he’s going to have such a public voice. Every time he writes it looks like he heard something from someone that he could interpret as corruption or got a bad look from someone somewhere, and as a result he chooses to interpret anything that is remotely related or capable of being connected to his sour experience, and all of a sudden he’s unearthed a massive conspiracy to destroy the world.

        • Just an Observer August 16, 2013 at 9:07 am

          STGNews is a commercial market news source. They derive income from advertisement and publish news and editorial. He has been published here and elsewhere for three years now. it appears he is surviving just fine. If you have a specific claim as to the truth or integrity of his writing, make it and stand by it sir. Else continue to be what you are here, a writing critic. It seems it is his style you take issue with and that is fair. But this piece contained reference to FACTS and poised a question and a call to action. It is by definition, a solid opinion piece. Your issue is Mr. Hyland personally it seems, not what he is saying per se. If you disagree with the ACTUAL assertions made in THIS article, what are your claims? Did the Mayor not admit to saying those things and find himself now dealing with the political fall out? Are those bills and the specific language Hyland mentions real? Is there not a reasonable claim to point to the eradication of civil liberties by our government based on legislation they pass contrary to the constitution? Is it not a reasonable point of concern to say that journalist are a last line of defense against unchecked power in government? Is this not only a national issue, but one that contains local relevance?

          It is odd you ask yourself what he is saying. Because, if is unclear what you are saying other than, I just don’t like his writing style hence I will call it poor journalism. Which of course is your right, but it appears petty. And it is see through.

          Now, enough about the writer, what is your take on this bit of legislation and how do you think it could affect local politics?

  • Perry August 17, 2013 at 11:18 am

    This is nothing personal. STG News is developing in its influence, and this type of journalism is dead weight in their progress.
    Hyland says, “The bills seek to narrow the scope of the definition of a journalist. For example, a journalist “covered” by the statute would now be restricted to a person or entity who engages in the practice “for financial gain or livelihood.” Since when is monetary compensation prerequisite to the investigation and dissemination of information to the public and for its best interest?”
    And he leaves it at that, then moving on to his commentary. Yet he grossly misquotes both bills. He conveniently makes himself look like a martyr and lies to his readership. Here is what he edits in order to create a sense of panic both within himself and within his readers:
    1962 also lists as a covered person (which Hyland conveniently omits), “is engaged in journalism and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person.”
    987 lists covered person as, “with the primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order
    to disseminate to the public news or information concerning local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest, regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports or publishes on such matters by,” among other things.”
    Now, juxtapose these definitions with what Hyland lists in order to create panic. There is a plethora of items in the actual definition! Both of these completely change and debunk Hyland’s narrow framing of the issue.
    Its like he goes to a buffet with a group of his readers, goes to get a plate of food in order to come back and tell his readers what is available, and only lists a couple of things and therefore creates a worrisome mindset in his readers. He either lied or didn’t comprehend.
    This, along with his treatment of the mayor, are meant as supporting points to his larger arguments about the bills. Yet that is the problem: He does not know how to argue, let alone provide thorough context in order to ensure journalistic fairness. Compare Hyland’s treatment of the mayor’s statement to Fox 13’s. Now, there’s nothing wrong with opinion, but offer the reader a fair overview of the issue before stating your opinion so that the reader can see the details.
    Further, in regards to the bills he either 1. strategically omits things that are crucial and therefore are lapses in journalistic ethics, or 2. is incapable of reading the bill (or other events and items he writes about) in such detail. I’m not sure which is more problematic. Either way, there is obvious reason why his editor needs to keep a very close eye on his use of sources and his ability to make claims. The guy is clearly smart, but, again, doesn’t quite know what he’s doing.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic August 17, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      The text from the proposed House Bill may resolve possible confusion.
      Here is the definition of “covered person” in the proposed House Bill:
      “COVERED PERSON.—The term ‘covered person’ means a person who, for financial gain or livelihood, is engaged in journalism and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person.” It then excludes from the protection afforded by the Bill any person who is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power and any organization designated by the Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization (with those excluded persons/organizations defined).
      With due respect, Perry, the language of the House bill is not an either-or definition as it is written; “for financial gain or livelihood” is integral to the defined person and his/her supervisor, affiliates, et cetera.
      The Senate bill, however, does not include that qualifying language in its definition. It is much lengthier both in characterization of a “covered person” and in those “excluded” from coverage under the proposed Act; and it is more complex in other respects as well.
      Here are links to the two pending bills, in case others missed the hyperlinks:
      House Bill 1962: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113hr1962ih/pdf/BILLS-113hr1962ih.pdf
      Senate Bill 987: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113s987is/pdf/BILLS-113s987is.pdf
      The rest of the conversation raised, I leave to develop as it may. 🙂

      ST. GEORGE NEWS | STGnews.com
      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

    • Dallas Hyland August 17, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      Mr. Perry,

      “He conveniently makes himself look like a martyr and lies to his readership”

      This is an inflammatory statement that fortunately for you was made from the vantage point of mere comment. Had you been an actual journalist, you would have been fortunate to have had a good editor to catch it before you got yourself or your publication into legal trouble for libel.

      The “narrow framing” was necessitated by word count and so as not to move off point. The point of the piece was to start a dialogue about the implications of narrowing journalistic scope and the implications of that on the FIrst Amendment, national politics, and local politics. I often draft pieces in a mannter to draw correlation between national events and how they play out locally. The incident with the Mayor was a clear and poignant example of something that might otherwise have been glazed over. In fact, I make reference to another publication purposely trying water down the gravity of it by mischaracterizing something said by those who accused the Mayor, in spite of the Mayor having already admitting, on the record, to having said the things he did. It is simply a bald assertion on your part to accuse me of trying to hang him, opinion or not.

      The bills are in fact quite complicated, but the specific language of definition I chose to use for my story was given as an EXAMPLE. Not the sum toll of the bill. That example alone would hopefully encourage the reader to what I have done, which is read and examine the bill with the intent of being a vigilant and engaged citizen regarding the laws passed by those we elect.

      I have to agree with the observer that this appears more to me like a personal act to grind wrought with ad hominem, among other logical fallacies to derive at a predisposed position of discrediting my work. It is cute, but it is see through. Nonetheless, thanks for reading and good luck in your ostentatious and somewhat disingenuous endeavors to help me improve as a writer.

      Perhaps you could try your hand at publishing one?

  • Perry August 17, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    I made it clear that if not a lie, an oversight. The scope of your efforts is noble, and depending on the stance and evaluation of evidence, these bills can be and are perhaps troubling. My issue is your handling of the bills and cherry picking some items over the entire picture, then drawing rash conclusions on your mistreatment of footnotes, then incorrectly framing them as ill-intended on the part of those you claim are corrupt.
    My attention here is nothing personal, and this kind of media-commenting is abnormal for me. You have a gift for investigation, but if claims were more thought out and better investigated, fairness would be the result. You seem torn between reporting with an agenda against the community’s ideology and writing your usual distant investigations as opinion pieces, yet frame them as simple news coverage with abstract word choices and apocalyptic warnings. The convolution of both strategies leads your claims and research as completely decontextualizing of the issues at hand–that is what bothers me as a reader. I really do hope for the best as STG News is rapidly growing and your efforts are important, but there could be a closer look at the way you use information.
    Joyce, Hyland is the one who created an either/or. Yes, those other items are extensions of and connected to the ones Hyland cites. Yet the bills aren’t even defining journalism as Hyland frames them to be doing. That is a list of identities and formats that could be under investigation, not definitions of what becomes authentic journalism, which is what Hyland frames them as. Then he moves on. As a result, the reader has been misinformed.
    If anything else, I wish STG News the best. Its an important form of citizen journalism in our community and I appreciate its contributors. I mean the best for Hyland. I particularly appreciate his efforts to unearth happenings that others do not, but he fills in the blanks with his abstract assumptions and does so erroneously. His pieces are too often flashes of hit and run tactics, and its frustrating when the reader then studies his claims further and finds the entire story, even if in mentioning, was never even offered in its more thorough context!
    All I’m saying is there could be tighter parameters around what is done in his pieces–not in what he chooses to investigate, but in how he chooses to frame things. I believe readers are mislead. News is news, not abstract speculation. Opinion pieces could at least cover the scope of the issue before leading readers down the path the writer wants them to walk, not getting readers worked up over footnotes of the larger issue.
    I must move on as I have other factors of life that need attention and this back and forth has brought me to this site too often the last 3 days; but thanks to both of you for at least hearing my concerns. Its best to at least tell a man to his face the problem you have with his work, which everyone deserves and which I have tried to do for Mr. Hyland here. Best of luck.

    • Dallas Hyland August 17, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      Your observations are noted good sir and not without consideration.

      Good intentions aside, I hold fast to the contention that you missed the entire point of the article, but then again we are engaging in rigorous dialogue on a matter of consequence and well, that is good.

      I too have bigger fish to fry such as the ongoing and developing investigations pieces like these, when combined form a whole of sorts.

      It is rare for me engage in the comments as I personally think it demeans the integrity of published news but an outright accusation of lying needed a response. While you have made your assertion as to what YOU think should have been written, you have not backed up your accusation with anything. I take issue with this and have made it known here.

      Again, thank you for reading and engaging. I tag line all of my pieces with See You Out There with sincerity and invite you and everyone else to say hello if they do see me. I consider it a privilege to write for this community and am also proud to be a member of it.

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