A slew of press reports this morning detailed the blocking of a political blog from all state employees’ computers. The move appeared to be an effort to silence the site, Bluegrass Report, which had been instrumental in publicizing recent controversies surrounding Governor Ernie Fletcher.
Authorities denied viewpoint discrimination, citing instead the deployment of web filtering software to block access to all blogs. Jill Midkiff, spokeswoman for the Finance and Administration Cabinet, was quoted in the Courier-Journal saying, "Today we blocked new categories of sites. We didn’t target specific sites," said Midkiff. "The new categories are in addition to categories that have been blocked for a while now — pornography, lingerie, computer games, hate sites, illegal activity sites, chat rooms."
BluegrassReport‘s Mark Nickolas suspects otherwise, and is documenting conservative blogs that remain accessible to state personnel in an effort to confirm his accusations of censorship.
It certainly seems that partisan discrimination was a factor in the blocking, particularly since, as this story received publicity from other political blogs throughout the day, those sites were soon reported inaccessible as well.
However, if in fact this represents merely an effort to keep state employees focused on their work, political blogs are an inappropriate target. Press reports cited Midkiff’s qualification that "mainstream media sites were not blocked because they can provide state employees a broader range of news on issues which agencies may need"; this statement would suggest a real ignorance on the part of Kentucky authorities of the very legitimate purpose blogs serve.
Blogs are playing a crucial role in bringing to light important matters of public interest, providing insider information and minority viewpoints that are typically absent from mainstream media reports. Particularly in the realm of local politics, sites like BluegrassReport offer invaluable commentary that could truly benefit awareness of public concerns and inform sound decision making on the part of the state government. We urge Kentucky to reconsider this restrictive move.
Reports surfaced this morning that state employees have been blocked from accessing BluegrassReport, a blog covering Kentucky politics. The alleged blocking follows closely on the heels of a front-page New York Times article, in which BluegrassReport’s Mark Nickolas was quoted criticizing Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher.
Fletcher has been embroiled in an ongoing scandal, which includes 15 indictments within the administration – 9 of which have been controversially pardoned by the Governor.
After the blocking was first brought to Nickolas’ attention and publicized on BluegrassReport, other local and national political sites picked up the story – only to be informed that they too had been added to the state’s blacklist. These included TPMmuckracker and Eschaton.
Below is NCAC’s letter to Governor Fletcher. You can contact his office here.
Letter to Kentucky Governor Fletcher:
Dear Governor Fletcher:
We write to express our concern about reports that the State of Kentucky has blocked access to certain web sites in an apparent effort to silence critical viewpoints. Specifically, we have received reports that state computers were denied access to www.BluegrassReport.org shortly after the site was mentioned in a New York Times article reporting on its criticism of your administration. Thereafter, other web sites reporting on the incident – including www.tpmmuckracker.com – were also reportedly blocked by the state filtering system, as though to cover up all traces of the controversy itself.
While the State has considerable latitude in regulating employees’ on-the-job activities, the State is still bound by constitutional obligations under the First Amendment. "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." Texas v. Johnson , 491 U.S. 397, 414 (1989). In other words, the State may limit employees’ access to sites that are not connected with work-related activities. But if, as it appears, the State selectively restricts employees’ access to online information based on the viewpoints expressed , or in retaliation for the views expressed, in our view this raises serious constitutional concerns.
We strongly urge you to investigate this matter to insure that State policies and practices accord with First Amendment obligations. Please feel free to contact us if we can assist in this effort in any way.