First Amendment Awards single out those who fight for public's right to knowBy KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader
October 06. 2017 9:02AM
MANCHESTER — Political activism and legal expertise on behalf of the public’s right to know won special recognition at the 15th annual Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications First Amendment Awards ceremony Thursday night.
“Prairie Home Companion” founder, humorist and now-newspaper columnist Garrison Keillor was the guest speaker at the well-attended Palace Theatre event.
Keillor, a well-known Minnesota liberal, poked fun at the many dignitaries surrounding Union Leader Publisher Joseph W. McQuaid, emcee for the event.
“Joe is being well-guarded as you can see,” said Keillor, 75. “He should be getting some kind of an award.”
Keillor said the greatest threat to media freedom isn’t authoritarian rule but the familiarity the “investigators and the investigated” endure in small towns and cities across America.
“The real threat to press freedom is we love to be loved,” Keillor said of the media.
Receiving the First Amendment Award was the group Right to Know NH. It began in 2013 when six citizens from across the state came together — each with their own struggles in trying to gain access to public documents.
“We found each other and went to work to try and improve things for the public,” said David Saad of Rumney, a founding member and current president.
“In a few years, I think we have made some progress, but we know there’s still more to do,” he said.
Former state Rep. Harriet Cady of Deerfield is another founding member.
“I’ve only been working on this issue since 1974. It’s been a long time in coming, but it’s a delight that it’s finally here,” Cady said.
Gregory Sullivan of Malloy & Sullivan PC, Hingham, Mass., was recognized for his tenacious defense of the public’s right to know as the longtime general counsel for the New Hampshire Union Leader, winning the Quill and Ink Award.
“I’m excited and humbled by this,” Sullivan said. “It feels like a lifetime achievement award, which makes you feel old — but what are you going to do.”
The ceremony is the main fundraiser for the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications, the nonprofit founded in 1999 by Nackey S. Loeb, the late president and publisher of the Union Leader and Sunday News. The school offers free classes and low-cost workshops, attracting students from middle-schoolers to retirees.
Saad said Right to Know NH’s major accomplishment has been to advance two new laws, one creating a 13-person Right-to-Know Study Commission and a second, passed last year, that clearly states the public does not have to pay to “inspect” government documents. State law still allows for government agencies to charge the public and media for copies of documents.
Saad hopes the commission becomes an advocate for creating an independent arbiter to resolve public access disputes; currently the public has to file a lawsuit if a government agency declines a request for records.
“The court system can be very intimidating and expensive for citizens and that’s why coming up with an arbiter is our principal goal as an organization,” Saad said.
Over its short life, the group’s blog, www.righttoknownh.org, has become a popular clearinghouse for citizens, public officials and lawyers to consult for knowledge about RSA 91-A, the Right-to-Know Law.
“The blog is the first place for people to go to; we’re proud it’s become a good resource,” Saad added.
People’s United Bank is the presenting sponsor for the event, with other key supporters including Eversource Energy, Amoskeag Beverages, Eastern Bank, AutoFair, AT&T, Brady Sullivan Properties, McLane Middleton, The Common Man Family of Restaurants, Catholic Medical Center, Joseph and Signe McQuaid, Silvertech, BAE Systems, Cafe Services, Citizens Count NH and the Lincoln Financial Group
“The campaign for right-to-know is not only about speaking, it’s also about listening,” said William Smagula, vice president of generation for Eversource N.H.