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Index Newspapers v. City of Portland

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  1. Newsgathering

Amicus brief filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 16 media organizations

Court: U.S. District Court, District of Oregon, Portland Division

Date Filed: Aug. 5, 2020

Update: On Aug. 6, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon extended the temporary restraining order against federal officers, without modifications, through Aug. 20. During a hearing, Judge Simon thanked the Reporters Committee for its friend-of-the-court brief in the case, and said he was no longer considering the idea of having journalists obtain credentials from the ACLU.

Background: In June, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of journalists targeted by law enforcement while covering Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon.

A month later, a federal district judge temporarily blocked law enforcement from arresting, assaulting, threatening, or dispersing journalists and legal observers during demonstrations, and said that police could not search or seize journalists’ equipment. After the government asked the court to modify the temporary restraining order, the judge asked the parties whether the court should restrict the protections to “professional” or “authorized” journalists who would be clearly identifiable by wearing vests provided by the ACLU.

Our Position: The district court should not require journalists covering protests to register or obtain a license with the government, ACLU, or any other organization.

  • Journalists are defined by the function they perform — gathering the news and distributing it to an audience — not by obtaining registration or licensing through the government or any other organization.
  • The court can not and should not require a third-party organization such as the ACLU to credential journalists.
  • If clarification is needed to evaluate compliance with the Court’s temporary restraining order, it should evaluate whether a reasonable law enforcement officer, under the totality of the circumstances, knew or should have known that they were interacting with a member of the press.

Quote: “The First Amendment bars any system that would require journalists to be licensed — by the government, third party, or otherwise — to gather and report the news. Such a system would constitute both an unconstitutional prior restraint and an unacceptable impediment to the public’s right to know.”

Related: The Reporters Committee has urged public officials in California, New York, Minnesota, and Colorado to immediately stop attacking and arresting journalists covering the Black Lives Matter protests, and to train police officers about First Amendment protections for reporters.