In an age where major public policies are announced and debated through platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the courts are increasingly barring public officials from limiting people’s access to social media. In late July, a Virginia judge ruled that public officials do not have the right to block people who disagree with their views from an official Facebook page. A legal challenge also has been brought by people blocked from the president’s @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed. And in August, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine sued on behalf two residents who claim the governor violated their First Amendment rights by blocking them from posting on his “Paul LePage, Maine’s Governor” Facebook page. In the Virginia case, resident Brian Davison sued Loudoun County Board Chairwoman Phyllis Randall for blocking access to her Facebook page after he posted allegations that school board members and their families had possible conflicts of interest.
Journalists and advocates for open government gathered at the seventh annual Wisconsin Watchdog Awards to celebrate efforts to keep the public informed while vowing to remain vigilant in the face of pushback from politicians.
Two citizens, two journalists, one fired government worker and one small but gutsy Wisconsin newspaper are among the recipients of the 2016-17 Openness Awards, or Opees, bestowed annually by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. The awards, announced in advance of national Sunshine Week (sunshineweek.org), March 12-18, recognize extraordinary achievement in the cause of open government.
In 2015, Wisconsin advocates for open government faced a disquieting truth: If we want to preserve our state’s tradition of transparency and accountability, we must fight for it, against powerful players who will be fighting back.
On July 9, the members of the Wisconsin state Assembly collectively affirmed their support for open government. They passed a resolution stating that the Assembly “remains committed to our state’s open record and open government laws and policies, and will take all necessary steps to ensure that these laws and policies are preserved without modification or degradation.” They vowed to “continue to work to uphold these principles and protections.”
“Most people in Wisconsin, including public officials, have grown to appreciate the state’s traditions of open government,” said Bill Lueders, council president. “These awards are meant to encourage this trend.”
Nominations are being sought for the fifth annual Distinguished Wisconsin Watchdog Award, recognizing an individual’s extraordinary contributions to open government or investigative journalism in Wisconsin.
Dick Wheeler, whose career was dedicated, first and foremost, to the Public’s Right to Know, died of a heart attack Nov. 11, as he was preparing for work. On April 25 he will be honored posthumously in Madison with the Distinguished WisconsinWatch.orgdog Award, presented by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Madison professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.