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