Newsgathering

This section covers many of the issues that journalists encounter as they're on the streets trying to gather news, including being stopped by police for reporting on or photographing at an emergency scene, being held back because you've been denied credentials, and being kept off of public or private property while covering a story. While reporters don't have a greater right of access than the general public, officials sometimes go out of their way to interfere with journalists simply because they are reporting to a larger audience. This section also covers controversies involving interviewing prisoners.

Letter in support of reporter Aaron Cantu

February 27, 2017

The Reporters Committee, joined by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, wrote to the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., in support of Aaron Cantú, the one remaining journalist still facing charges related to the protests on Inauguration Day. The letter questions why charges are still pending and why a journalist faces indictment when it appears he was covering the protests at the time of his arrest.

Journalists face charges in Inauguration arrests; one sees charges dropped

Emma Lux | Newsgathering | News | January 27, 2017
News
January 27, 2017

Charges have been dropped against one of the seven individuals arrested and charged with felony rioting while covering the anti-Trump protests last Friday, according to a filing by the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. Superior Court.

Evan Engel, who works at the news site Vocativ, had been released pending trial last weekend. The rioting charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

“After consultation with the counsel for Mr. Engel, who is a journalist with Vocativ, as well as a review of evidence presented to us by law enforcement, we have concluded that we will not proceed with the charge against this individual,” prosecutors said in a media statement. Engel's lawyer is former White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler.

Szurovecz v. Hungary (Eur.Ct.Hum.R.)

September 30, 2016

A Hungarian journalist at abcug.hu, an online news portal, was denied access to two Hungarian refugee camps. A report by the Hungarian Commissioner for Fundamental Rights described these conditions as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment. His requests were denied based on the privacy interests of the refugees. The Reporters Committee joined a coalition that intervened in the case, arguing that European Union law allowed journalists to report on important public controversies like this.

Fields v. City of Philadelphia

November 1, 2016

The Reporters Committee, joined by 31 news organizations, filed a brief in the Third Circuit in support of two individuals who had been arrested for photographing police officers during arrests. The district court in Philadelphia had held that individuals have no First Amendment right to record officers in public unless they do so to criticize the police. The amicus brief argued that photos and videos provided by citizens and bystandards are valuable to the news media and the public, and taking such images should be encouraged.

Judge disallows rioting charge against "Democracy Now" host

Andrea Perez | Newsgathering | News | October 17, 2016
News
October 17, 2016

"Democracy Now!" journalist Amy Goodman announced to a crowd outside the Morton County Courthouse in Mandan, N.D., that Judge John Grinsteiner refused to formalize charges against her for participating in a riot while she was covering a pipeline protest in the state.

Goodman originally faced a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass in response to her Sept. 3 coverage of a protest against the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline. She learned the trespass charge was dropped when she returned to North Dakota to continue reporting on the protests, but late last week learned that the state's attorney wanted to bring a more serious charge of participating in a riot.

Askins v. DHS

October 3, 2016

Plaintiffs Ray Askins and Christian Ramirez sued the Department of Homeland Security to challenge policies of Customs and Border Protection that ban photography at United States ports of entry without advanced permission from CBP. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs, arguing that policies that restrict the news media's ability to photograph or record activity at the US border impinge upon the press's constitutionally protected rights to gather news and report on matters of public concern. We argued that photography and recording are essential elements of reporting on matters of public concern, including those that arise at the border; that strong public policy rationales underlie a First Amendment right to photograph public officials such as CBP officials; and that national security concerns do not provide a compelling interest that justifies the CBP photography policies.

Anatomy of a brief: Reporters Committee supports challenges to "ag-gag" statutes

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Michael Lambert

In June, the Reporters Committee filed friend-of-the-court briefs in two federal courts asserting a similar argument — laws criminalizing the recording of agricultural production facilities, known as “ag-gag” statutes, are unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Numerous states have enacted “ag-gag” laws in recent years that punish those who make audio or video recordings at agricultural facilities without the consent of the facility owner. Although the particular language of each statute varies from state-to-state, the laws effectively ban undercover reporting on the agricultural industry and gag speech critical of agricultural practices. In turn, the public’s ability to learn about potentially dangerous and unethical conditions at agricultural facilities is stifled.

Pentagon revises war manual to emphasize protections for journalists

Sophie Murguia | Newsgathering | News | July 28, 2016
News
July 28, 2016

The Pentagon has updated its Law of War manual to clarify that journalists are generally protected as civilians under international law. The changes, announced last week, came after media groups expressed concern that some language in the original version could put reporters at risk of being considered spies or combatants.

The manual, first released in 2015, is the Department of Defense’s guide to international law as it applies to the U.S. military. The original manual drew criticism for saying that although journalists are usually civilians, they can sometimes be “unprivileged belligerents” — a category that includes guerrillas and spies.

Letter to Cleveland Mayor, Police Chief on gas mask restrictions

July 14, 2016

The Reporters Committee and a coalition of news organizations wrote to the Cleveland mayor and police chief, objecting to the city's policy banning gas masks during protests. We argued that journalists, who would not be engaged in the activity that prompts the use of tear gas, need to cover these newsworthy events, and that police should allow credentialed journalists to carry them near the protests and parades.

Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Wasden

June 27, 2016

The Animal Legal Defense Fund and other organizations challenged Idaho Code Ann. § 18-7042, known as an "ag-gag" statute, as unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The law criminalizes audio and video recording at agriculture facilities. The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho struck down the law. The Reporters Committee and 22 media organizations filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in support of Plaintiffs-Appellees. The brief argues that journalists and whistleblowers who serve as their sources have improved food safety and agriculture facility conditions through the years by exposing violations. Idaho's "ag-gag" statue infringes upon the First Amendment rights of those seeking to disseminate information to the public about food safety, the treatment of animals, and environmental concerns.