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An NU center

The New England First Amendment Coalition, a non-profit organization made up of a editors from around the New England area has partnered with Northeastern University to’ ‘defend, promote and expand’ public access to government in the New England area, according to its website.
‘We are a good fit for the Center because experiential learning is Northeastern University’s forte,’ Northeastern professor and Center spokesman Walter Robinson said.
The goal of the Center is to promote the principles of the First Amendment, especially among people whose livelihoods depend on getting access to government or public records, Robinson said.
Robinson said the government has been more guarded with its public records over the past seven years, using the cause of national security as reason for increased security.
‘Since 9/11, at all levels of government, the tendency is to classify information needlessly – and it’s done a lot,’ Robinson said. ‘In New England, on the state and local level, sometimes when they don’t want to give you information, they say the information might be used by terrorists.’
Robinson said the process to obtain public records in New England is both time consuming and expensive, compared to many western states, where a large amount of information is available online without charge. In Massachusetts, public records are not online and individuals who request records are charged for search and copying time.
‘There’s a tendency by people in government that when reporters or members of the public ask for information, they think it’ll be embarrassing and think for ways to say no,’ Robinson said.
Society of Professional Journalists President Dave Aeikens said the Center offers an opportunity for journalists and citizens to get assistance on First Amendment matters.
‘What makes us strong is that collective effort to work for that common cause, and we’re going to work with the New England First Amendment Center and we’ll protect the First Amendment together,’ he said.
Mike Hiestand, attorney for the Student Press Law Center, which aids student journalists in media law issues, said access to public records is a big issue.
‘After the past seven years, we’ve seen a tightening in the amount of information for the public,’ he said. ‘They’ve changed the attitude of citizens accessing this information in the name of national security. Everybody on our side will agree they’ve taken opportunity of the situation and tighten the situation.’
Hiestand said the establishment of the New England First Amendment Center will benefit journalists because it is exclusive to New England, has a board of directors with experienced backgrounds and a good handle on New England access laws. He said he was unaware of any other central organization that handled access issues in the New England states.
‘I absolutely think that the First Amendment can use all the friends it can get,’ Hiestand said.
Students will also be able to use the Center.
‘When I had to write articles for my classes using public records, most people had problems,’ College of Communications senior Leah Gabriel said. ‘If they’re making it easier, especially for journalism students, it’ll make our lives a lot easier’

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