Tag Archives: press freedom

“There’s nothing to see here. Move along.”

By Chris Daly 

Just to be clear: It is never OK to arrest a journalist (except in rare cases where the journalist is actively engaged in some activity that is a crime, like committing arson on a day off). When a journalist is working, the police have a positive duty not to interfere. The arrests of the journalists covering the Occupy movement are violations of their Constitutional rights. More importantly, those arrests violate the absolute right of the people to be informed about what John Adams called “the character and conduct of their rulers.”

To repeat, the First Amendment says:

“Congress shall make no law …

abridging the freedom . . . of the press.”

End of story. The founders left no wiggle room there. James Madison did not write, “Make no law unless it would be convenient to impose a news blackout.” He did not write, “Make no law unless you think you can get away with telling the people you are arresting journalists for their own safety.”¬†

Shame on those cops. Shame on their chiefs. Shame on those mayors.

Discipline the cops. Fire the chiefs. Recall the mayors.

Those things won’t happen, of course, so it’s up to the journalists on scene. Report, report, report. Take names and badge numbers. Call your lawyers. File suit.

Shoot video. Take pictures. Get audio.

 

[Yes, of course, I realize that there is another side to this argument: It is ludicrous to say that all journalists have an unlimited right to descend en masse on every crime scene, disaster site, drug bust, surveillance stake-out, courtroom, grand jury room, and so on. But that’s not what’s at stake in the Occupy arrests. These are not secret, investigative police actions. These are important public-policy matters, playing out in public (Yes, Zuccotti Park is private, but that seems like a technicality at this point, since the occupation is infused with such a public interest in its outcome). It is also disingenuous for police, when they start making arrests, to declare the area a “crime scene” just because they are making arrests and order all journalists to leave. If the police are allowed to do that, then journalists will never be able to watch the police at work and report about it. That would be a great day for the police but a bad day for everybody else. Even Justice Byron White, no friend of the news media, saw the threat. As he wrote in the majority opinion in the 1972 Branzburg ruling, “Nor is it suggested that news gathering does not qualify for First Amendment protection; without some protection for seeking out the news, freedom of the press could be eviscerated.”]

 

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Filed under First Amendment, Journalism, Uncategorized

Whose press freedom?

By Chris Daly

Today’s Times includes a “sidebar” piece (column?) by legal correspondent Adam Liptak. I found it frustrating for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it is a bit of a mystery why it is running now (except for the thin reed of the anniversary of the Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court). There is no discernible “news peg.” But that’s not really important.

What is more frustrating is that the piece provides so few links to the scholarly literature on this vast subject. That’s where the Times could have really used the Web to help its readers go deeper. I am going to try to find some of this material and post those links here.

Meanwhile, let me throw out a thought: At the time the Founders enshrined the idea of “freedom of the press” in the Bill of Rights, the press of the day was small, local, independent, and opinionated. The typical form of ownership was a “sole proprietorship” — that is, the printer who ran the press owned the business entirely himself. But even then, many “job printers” handled printing chores for all manner of customers, including customers whom they disagreed with. So, in that scenario, who enjoyed press freedom? The owner of the business that facilitated the mass communication? The author of the words? Both?

Keep in mind, the main goal of the founders was to prevent “prior restraint” — the use of government power to prevent certain facts or ideas from ever getting published in the first place. That seems like as worthy a goal as ever. Therefore, the rights of all individual human beings who want to communicate with other individual human beings should be protected from government interference. That, it seems to me, ought to be the operating principle here.

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Filed under history, Journalism, media, New York Times, Supreme Court