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New England First Amendment Coalition President Karen Bordeleau recently presented the keynote address at the annual Massachusetts Broadcasters Association Sound Bites Awards.
She used the occasion to call on all journalists to work together — despite competitive interests — to protect the First Amendment and demand government transparency. (Read full remarks here.)
“Wouldn’t it be something if when one of your newsrooms gets shut out of a meeting or denied public records that all the other newsrooms come to your defense by reporting on it?,” Bordeleau said at the Nov. 14 event.
“In these difficult days — when journalists are taking one bash after another – rivalries must sometimes take a backseat to journalism’s ultimate purpose – which is to be a fierce, teeth-bared watchdog of the government,” she added.
We must challenge every single government official who tries to shut us down. We cannot afford to take ‘no’ for an answer. Journalism cannot afford to take ‘no’ for an answer.
Karen Bordeleau, NEFAC President
Bordeleau, the former executive editor of The Providence Journal, spoke on behalf of NEFAC and implored the reporters, editors and producers in attendance to use resources like the coalition to help in the fight for transparency, particularly in Massachusetts.
“There is a new arrogance on the part of some elected officials who no longer think they must answer for their actions, or their policies – policies that obviously affect their constituents,” she said. “We see many examples of this arrogance here at home in Massachusetts where all three branches of government exercise a blatant disregard for open records and transparency – which, we can agree, amounts to nothing more than a condescension for the people they serve.”
Massachusetts is the only state in the country whose legislature, judiciary and governor all claim to be exempt from public records law. But this lack of transparency isn’t just a concern on the local level, Bordeleau said. The ability to expose government misconduct is being threatened on the national level too, she added.
“In the last two years alone, we have been declared ‘the enemy of the people’ numerous times by a sitting U.S. president,” Bordeleau said. “We have had our investigative stories decried as ‘hoaxes.’ We have been told bald-faced lies by the powerful and when we have challenged those lies we have had a finger wagged in our faces and accused of reporting ‘fake news’.”
“We have heard a U.S. president praise a U.S. congressman for body slamming a reporter,” she added. “We have seen multiple examples of reporters from The Washington Post, The New York Times, Buzzfeed, the Guardian, the Des Moines Register and others being thrown out of press conferences for doing their jobs — for reporting factually.”
Citizens are entitled to transparency and information about their government, Bordeleau said, stressing that journalists need to be prepared to fight for that openness.
“We must fight for this with every ounce of strength we have,” she said. “We must challenge every single government official who tries to shut us down. We cannot afford to take ‘no’ for an answer. Journalism cannot afford to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Bordeleau’s address was part of NEFAC’s Featured Speaker Program and the coalition’s ongoing public conversation series about journalism and the First Amendment. Those interested in scheduling a speaker or serving as one should contact NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman at email@example.com.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
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Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.