The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press today urged the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) to reverse a decision holding that FBI agents did not violate the news media’s First Amendment rights by intimidating and harassing them while covering a matter of public interest.
Journalists were kicked, punched, sprayed with mace and intimidated when an FBI agent pointed a rifle at them while trying to cover an FBI raid on a high-profile political activist in Puerto Rico in February 2006. The U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico held such acts were protected state action and did not violate the journalists’ First Amendment Rights.
“The video of the attacks by law enforcement officials on the Puerto Rican journalists is shocking,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “It was clear the FBI’s search of the premises was over when the media came onto the property at the invitation of one of the residents. There was no justification whatsoever for the attack on the reporters and photographers.”
In a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the journalists’ appeal to the First Circuit, the Reporters Committee argued that such disregard for the long-recognized right to report news under the First Amendment should not stand.
“When journalists pose no threat to the investigation of a state actor and are merely present to observe and report on public events, such aggressive conduct by a state actor is surely unwarranted and cannot be tolerated,” the Reporters Committee wrote.
The district court had separated each of the FBI agents’ individual acts when examining whether First Amendment violations occurred. The Reporters Committee argued that the court should instead have looked to the totality of the agents’ actions, which resulted in preventing the journalists from observing and reporting on a matter of public interest.
The brief can be found at: www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20071106-amicusbrie.html