Hawaii lawmakers urge news outlets to use ‘no-notoriety’ approach

  • Russell Ruderman
  • SEN. MAILE SHIMABUKURO

State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro of Oahu has introduced a pair of resolutions “encouraging the media, law enforcement, and information officers to adopt a no-notoriety approach to reporting on mass shooters and the perpetrators of other mass crimes.”

The nonbinding resolutions, Senate Resolution 5 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 19, both introduced Tuesday, are identical, except the concurrent resolution contains the phrase “the House of Representatives concurring.”

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Co-sponsors of SCR 19 include Big Island Sens. Lorraine Inouye and Russell Ruderman, Oahu Sens. Stanley Chang, Karl Rhoads, Michelle Kidani, Sharon Moriwaki, Gil Riviere and Laura Thielen, and Maui Sen. Rosalyn Baker. All also are co-sponsors of SR 5, as are Oahu Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz, Mike Gabbard, Donna Mercado Kim and Clarence Nishihara.

The timing of the resolutions’ introduction follows Sunday’s rampage by a mentally ill man, Jerry “Jarda” Hanel, who fatally shot Honolulu police officers Tiffany Enriquez and Kaulike Kalama, then set a fire that burned several homes and likely killed Hanel and his landlady, Lois Cain.

Shimabukuro said, however, she drafted the measures prior to the Diamond Head tragedy at the request of a constituent who was upset at seeing the photo and name of a mass shooting suspect repeatedly aired in news coverage.

“He said, ‘Let’s do something to stop this.’ And I thought it was a great idea,” Shimabukuro said. “So I did a quick internet search and saw there are national movements to do a no-notoriety approach. And I think it makes a lot of sense.”

“I want to see where the conversation goes,” she added.

The resolution requests that media and law enforcement “recognize that notoriety serves as a motivating factor for suspects of mass crimes and inspires copycat crimes” and “limit the name of a suspect to once per piece as a reference point, avoid using the suspect’s name in headlines, and limit the use of the suspect’s likeness” unless necessary to apprehend the suspect.

It also urges media to “refuse to broadcast or publish self-serving statements, photos, videos, manifestos (or) social media posts” by suspects and “focus on and elevate the names and likenesses of the victims and frame messaging that shows the victims’ lives are more than the suspect’s actions.”

“I want to see the focus on the victims, and I don’t want to see any kind of glorification given to (suspects), even if it’s infamous glorification,” Shimabukuro said. “They should just say ‘the suspect,’ and don’t put his picture, don’t put his name. Don’t give him any kind of recognition — which is often what these guys are looking for.”

Ruderman said he signed on as a co-sponsor because he thinks “it’s worthy of discussion and consideration in that we don’t want to encourage copycat crimes.”

“It seems like when someone gets famous for something heinous, there’s someone else out there who wants to do the same or do it better,” Ruderman said.

Nancy Cook Lauer, a West Hawaii Today reporter and president of the Big Island Press Club, a community organization dedicated to freedom of information and the public’s right to know, called the resolutions’ motivation “understandable, even admirable,” but pointed to “news value in publishing a suspect’s name and photo.”

“Most importantly, it gives notice to the public, especially those who may have been victimized by the suspect in the past,” Cook Lauer said. “This enables them to seek redress if appropriate, or (serves) as a reminder to all society if prior acts of violence were discounted or overlooked. It helps societies identify gaps or failures in systems that could help prevent future tragedies.”

She described the resolutions’ suggested limitations on use of suspects’ names and likenesses as “alarming, in that it opens the door for government to dictate specific content of a news article.”

Jeff Portnoy, a Honolulu attorney who represents the Tribune-Herald and other media outlets, called the resolutions “just bad policy and suggests a total lack of knowledge of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

“Whether the intent is laudable, the suggestion that the government is going to recommend how the media covers an event or what it publishes is very scary in a democracy. And even a suggestion, by way of a resolution, is very troubling,” Portnoy said. “It’s attempting to dissuade the media from its responsibilities. It’s also attempting to instruct the media what it should or should not publish. And for a governmental entity to enter into these waters is very disturbing.”

Portnoy described the resolutions as “a slippery slope.”

“Are they going to now recommend that you don’t print negative information about a legislator because it may cause the legislator distress?” he said. “… I don’t think you should have the Legislature recommending what you print in your newspaper.”

Ruderman and Shimabukuro both expressed respect for the First Amendment.

“I think that here, we’re asking for a discussion of can we as a society say that we don’t want to promote this kind of thing,” Ruderman said. “I don’t think we can forbid anybody from publicizing it, but we can appeal to a news agency to get everything that’s important across without making that individual famous.”

“It’s a resolution. It’s not a law. If my measure passes, it’s just urging,” Shimabukuro added. “We’re not mandating anything.”

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Inouye didn’t return a call by press time.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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