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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will partner with premier local law firms in Florida and North Carolina to operate special 24-hour Media Hotlines for journalists who may be impeded or arrested while covering the upcoming political conventions in Tampa and Charlotte. The hotlines, which have been arranged by the Reporters Committee for national party conventions for the last 40 years, will ensure that free legal assistance to reporters and photographers covering the Republican and Democratic National Conventions will be only a telephone call away.
In addition, the Reporters Committee is working with lawyers in Chicago to prepare a similar hotline for journalists from around the world who will be covering the G-8 meeting in May.
The Tampa firm of Thomas & LoCicero will be on call during the Republican National Convention Aug. 27-30. In Chicago, Mandell Menkes LLC will handle calls during the G-8 Summit scheduled for May 15-22. The Reporters Committee expects to announce a partner firm for Charlotte soon.
The Reporters Committee hotlines will be available to all working journalists regardless of medium or affiliation. The local numbers will be established closer to the conventions and announced on the Reporters Committee website. As a backup, journalists can call the Reporters Committee’s legal hotline at 800-336-4243, which operates 24/7 year round.
Protests and heavy security are anticipated at all three events, which could lead to draconian limits on news media access to events and/or reporters and photographers being arrested as they cover activities, as has been the case at several Occupy city protests. Already officials in Tampa have explored setting up surveillance cameras around the city and it was unclear whether the public would have access to the footage. In Charlotte security teams already have said they would be establishing limited “free speech zones” for protesters.
Hotline lawyers plan to work with police and public officials ahead of the political conventions and the G-8 meeting to help anticipate and resolve potential problems for journalists who may be arrested or detained during demonstrations or other disturbances that occur during the conventions.
“Recent experience teaches us that where there are protests, there will be journalists arrested by police,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “We can’t stop all excessive behavior by law enforcement officials, but we can make it easier to get journalists back on the street so they can do their jobs.”
The Reporters Committee has established media hotlines at every Democratic and Republican national convention since 1972. At recent conventions, the hotlines have been used with disturbing frequency, as journalists have been caught up in mass arrests of protestors.
In 2008, for example, more than 40 journalists were arrested in St. Paul during the Republican National Convention. Three of them sued and won a settlement that included a monetary payment as well as a requirement for Minneapolis and St. Paul police to undergo training in how to appropriately deal with the media. The Reporters Committee was involved in drafting that curriculum.
About the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.