Honolulu’s only daily newspaper engaged in a conspiracy to muzzle City Councilman Tom Berg and censor any criticism of the rail project in the comments section of its website.

Well, that’s what Berg said anyway.

When Civil Beat looked into the charge, though, it turned out to be a far different story.

In a Saturday morning email to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s editor, managing editor and webmaster, the District 1 council member said the paper prohibited him from commenting because of the content of his commentary: “It appears that since my comments involve the rail, your newspaper has sought to censor me so that truthful information and facts are omitted by design…..”

“….you may disagree with me, but to deny and prohibit my comments is most troubling on your end and I would like to know why you have sought to keep me from commenting when I mention the word- RAIL…….”

The newspaper responded quickly. It told Berg it doesn’t filter comments by the word “rail” but that its commenting system does filter comments that include links because it’s not feasible to check them out. That’s what prevented some Berg comments from being posted, the paper told him. On top of that, when Berg tried to submit the same comments repeatedly, the system may have flagged his submissions as spam.

“I noticed you are regularly linking to your online newsletter. That may have triggered the spam filter because the computer doesn’t differentiate between your newsletter and, say, a commercial site,” Assistant City Editor/Reporter Craig Gima told Berg in a Sunday morning email that the site’s webmaster forwarded to Civil Beat in response to questions.

Berg’s response, two minutes later: “Thanks- I am back online without any problems…MAHALO!!!!” He told Civil Beat Monday evening that the problem had been “fixed.”

When Civil Beat first attempted to reach Berg for this story at his official city email address, the message bounced back from the postmaster with a note that delivery had failed.

And we worried: Is Councilman Berg now rejecting Civil Beat emails because of our hard-hitting coverage of the City Council?


Here’s Berg’s email, in its entirety as provided to Civil Beat by two sources. It was sent Saturday at 7:16 a.m.

Aloha,

As a City Councilman, I like to elaborate on readers’ comments online and participate in the discussions on your stories…..however, a week ago or so your paper disabled that feature for me- your paper has prohibited me from commenting and refuses to permit me to post submissions/my screen-name-is: CouncilmanBerg

I used no foul language, included no links, just simple commentary. It appears that since my comments involve the rail, your newspaper has sought to censor me so that truthful information and facts are omitted by design…..

Today’s story on the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant- I posted a comment about how I voted on that measure and what details there were for solutions- and mentioned the rail- how our infrastructure is falling apart at the expense of doing rail….you may disagree with me, but to deny and prohibit my comments is most troubling on your end and I would like to know why you have sought to keep me from commenting when I mention the word- RAIL…….

MAHALO for your time.
Tom Berg
Council District One
Ewa to Makaha

And here’s the newspaper’s response to Berg, sent at 8:57 a.m. Sunday.

Dear Councilman Berg,

Have you tried recently to comment?
Neither your user name nor your email address is blocked from commenting. We do filter certain key words such as swear words and other words that are used to insult other posters for review. Rail is not one of those words.
As we’ve talked about previously, we also filter URLs because we just do not have the time to check every single URL that people post to make sure it leads to a relevant site and not to other sites, such as porn sites or commercial sites, that we would not want our website to link to.
A check of our filter shows that some of your comments were not posted because of links.
Also, if you keep trying to post the same or similar comment, the system may start flagging your comments as spam. A check of our filter suggests that may have also happened to you. I noticed you are regularly linking to your online newsletter. That may have triggered the spam filter because the computer doesn’t differentiate between your newsletter and, say, a commercial site.
If you continue to be blocked with comments that do not have links, it could be that your IP address is blocked. This may have happened if someone else sharing your server has been blocked. This occasionally happens with people who share an internet provider account or if someone else has gained access to your IP account. If you provide us with you IP address — use any IP address finder such as whatismyipaddress.com/ — we can check to see if your IP address has been blocked.

Regards,

Craig Gima
Assistant City Editor/Reporter
Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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