State Issues New Guidelines On Media’s Mauna Kea Access

nolulu Civil Beat NOVEMBER 13, 2015 · By Anita Hofschneider

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The Department of Land and Natural Resources says it wants to keep everyone safe, but some First Amendment advocates worry the guidelines go too far.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has issued news media guidelines for journalists and photojournalists who plan to report on efforts to resume work on the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

Construction has been at a standstill since Native Hawaiian activists and other telescope protesters blocked construction crews last April, resulting in dozens of arrests. A similar confrontation took place in June when the TMT tried and failed to resume construction, and another is expected this month after the TMT announced that a small crew of workers will go to the mountain to conduct equipment maintenance and repairs.

The news media guidelines request that journalists coordinate with a public information officer, let the DLNR know if they’ll be on the mountain and not block any roads or interfere with law enforcement activities. The guidelines also say the DLNR may ask news gatherers to provide media credentials and stay within a designated “photography/videography area if conditions or activities warrant.”

The DLNR said the guidelines are intended to ensure the safety of reporters, photographers and videographers. But some of the rules have been criticized by news media advocates who say the the guidelines raise concerns about freedom of the press.

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An anti-TMT demonstrator lies on the ground, refusing to move, as DLNR officials attempt to drive up the Mauna Kea access road last June.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“I respect the DLNR’s desire to keep everyone safe on Mauna Kea, but I would strongly urge the state to give our reporters and photographers the same access as any other members of the public, including the protesters,” David Bock, Tribune-Herald editor and publisher said in a Hawaii Tribune-Herald article. “The newspaper opposes any effort to confine its news-gathering to a media staging area.”

Daniel Gluck, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an email to Civil Beat that taking photos from public property of things that are in plain sight is a First Amendment right.

“That right belongs to everyone, not just those who are official, credentialed members of the media,” said Daniel Gluck, attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. “We would have very serious concerns if the government were requiring journalists or members of the public to have to get permission from the government before exercising this constitutional right, if the government tried to pick and choose who gets to exercise this right, or if the government tried to restrict journalists’ access to an area otherwise open to the public.”

Brian Black, who leads the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, was more measured.

“It’s difficult to say what the state intends to do with these guidelines. But if it plans to restrict access for the media more than other members of the public, that is wrong,” Black said, referencing the recent incident at the University of Missouri when the press was refused access to a public lawn.

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Mauna Kea protesters face off with DLNR law enforcement officers who tell them to clear the road to allow DLNR vehicles to ascend the summit last June.  Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It’s not the first time the Department of Land and Natural Resources has restricted access to the mountain. The Board of Land and Natural Resources approved emergency rules limiting access Mauna Kea in July that were aimed at discouraging protesters who were camping on the mountain. The rules resulted in more arrests of demonstrators, but a judge invalidated them in October.

Kealoha Pisciotta, a Native Hawaiian activist and one of the leaders of opposition to the TMT, said any limitation on media access is an attempt to manage the government’s public image and that such access is important in light of the possibility of police brutality.

She said the TMT should not resume construction before the state Supreme Court issues a ruling on the project.

“People want to protect against desecration,” she said. “That’s what we’ve all been doing and that’s what we will continue to do.”

A DLNR spokeswoman did not reply to a request for comment.

Read the guidelines for yourself below and let us know what you think:

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