Welcome

by

By Tom Heslin

Welcome to the New England First Amendment Center blog – a joint venture of the New England First Amendment Coalition and the New England First Amendment Center at Northeastern.

This initiative came out of discussions by the New England Associated Press News Executives Association, whose members shared concerns over the never-ending assaults on freedom of information throughout the region.

We decided we had to take responsibility for creating greater awareness in all corners of society about the importance of freedom of information and the right to know. We wanted to create a vehicle to reach newsrooms, classrooms, courtrooms and living rooms, in all of New England. That’s where the vision came from, and that’s where we’re bound.

I want to acknowledge the work of the key folks who have gotten us this far: Mary Jane Wilkinson of The Boston Globe; Larry Laughlin of the Associated Press; Lance Johnson, retired from the New London Day; Joe Cavanagh of Blish & Cavanagh; Doug Clifton of Vermont (it was our good fortune that he retired to Vermont after a stellar career in which he was the top editor at the Miami Herald and then the Plain Dealer in Cleveland; and Walter V. Robinson of Northeastern University.

Their commitment to this effort has been unflagging. They now make up our executive committee, and they have also recruited an extremely talented board of directors, including top First Amendment lawyers in the six New England states. We will expand and diversify our board as we gain momentum.

Our coalition, working with the center at Northeastern University, will foster awareness of the importance to the general welfare of broad public access to the records and processes of local, state and federal government.

We expect to support research and scholarship that educates students, citizens and civic leaders on the principles of access to government information.

We can only make a difference if we find a way to work with organizations and people from all walks of life, in the six New England states, to ensure that citizen access is at the top of the public policy agenda and that laws, regulations, ordinances and practices expedite the public’s right to know.

We aspire to make a difference in newsrooms – to teach working journalists about the professional and ethical underpinnings of their work in the context of the First Amendment, and freedom of information; and the importance of public access to government to the accuracy of their work.

If journalists need to be more aware of these issues, so too do government officials. Their strong commitment to government transparency and an informed public contributes immeasurably to a robust democracy.

Divided, the New England states are small; united we can support the work of access organizations – such as ACCESS/RI – throughout the six New England states.

Our focus, it should be noted, is not to weaken any individual’s right to privacy. We offer support and guidance to efforts to combat government secrecy that would otherwise advance special interests, hide corruption or mismanagement, thwart public accountability, avoid embarrassment, intimidate activists or advocates, or generally inhibit public understanding of and participation in the government process.

Today is a first step on the journey. As we go forward, when we need guidance, we’ll seek to find it in these words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment

U.S. Constitution

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