Each year since 2001, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council has recognized one or more outstanding advocates for the First Amendment. Our Friend of the First Amendment award now bears the name of a legendary Iowa Statehouse reporter, Harrison “Skip” Weber, who worked for the Iowa Daily Press Association and later for the Iowa Newspaper Association.
The 2018 awards will be presented on the evening of Sept. 27 at the annual Iowa Watch dinner that the nonprofit investigative and explanatory reporting organization sponsors with the Iowa FOI Council.
Tickets for the dinner are $55 and must be purchased by Sept. 20. You can buy tickets online at: https://tinyurl.com/y7kz9jzg
Here is the stellar group that is being honored with this year’s Friend of the First Amendment awards.
o Dave Busiek has served as the Iowa FOI Council’s president, has been on our board of trustees for many years, and has been the national chair of the Radio and Television News Directors Association. Dave played an instrumental role in working with the Iowa Supreme Court on revisions to the court rules that govern journalists’ use of electronics in courtrooms and later in persuading the court to allow journalists to have 24/7 access to public court records in all 99 counties. Dave is retiring at year’s end after 39 years with KCCI-TV, including an amazing 29-year tenure as its news director.
o Rita Bettis Austen is the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. In that role, Rita has proven time and again to be an articulate and effective voice on issues affecting free speech and freedom of the press in our state. Among the cases she has taken on are ones challenging Windsor Heights’ city sign ordinance that treated some anti-sidewalk signs differently from others, to another in which the ACLU sued the City of Sibley over its threats of legal action against a local resident whose website was critical of city officials and the rancid smell from a local factory, to the a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of Iowa’s so-called “ag gag” law that restricts what can be reported, and how it can be reported, from inside animal confinement facilities, to most recently, the letters to officials in several cities about their panhandling ordinances that Rita said violate people’s right to roadside free speech and penalize people based on the content of that speech.
o Ann Wilson, Doug Burns and Jared Strong are being honored for their strong, unwavering commitment to the First Amendment. Ann is the publisher of the Carroll Daily Times Herald; Doug is its editor, and Jared is the reporter whose skillful use of the open meetings and open records laws has led to many exclusive reports. This year, for example, the newspaper successfully defended itself against a lawsuit that challenged Strong’s authoritative account on a Carroll police officer who had been accused of preying on teenage girls while on duty. The Daily Times Herald’s defense of the case came at a significant financial cost to the newspaper. But Ann and Doug never hesitated to bear that expense and stand up for the excellent reporting that Jared had done in shining the spotlight on an officer who was forced to resign after the newspaper’s article.