Update: Journalists have joined those awaiting the results of a grand jury investigation into the August 2014 shooting of a young black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. With protests expected whatever the outcome, it’s a good opportunity to ensure reporters and photographers on site are prepared.
Ferguson police have indicated there are no plans to change the way they treated media in August, although St. Louis County police assigned to Ferguson have undergone additional training, their respective spokesmen told Reporters Committee journalism intern Amelia Rufer. (“All eyes on Ferguson as decision nears,” Reporters Committee, Nov. 7)
In August, numerous reporters and photographers covering events after the shooting of Michael Brown were arrested, harassed and otherwise stymied from news gathering activity, which the Reporters Commitee called “outrageous and unacceptable in a nation that cherishes a free press.”
The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 48 news organizations in a letter of protest to law enforcement officials in Missouri reminding them that, “Officers on the ground must understand that gathering news and recording police activities are not crimes.” Reporters Committee attorneys continue to work with local and national news outlets and lawyers, other media organizations, and officials.
In September, the Reporters Committee sent a letter to the Justice Department, joined by 44 news organizations, urging it to include press issues in its review of what happened in Ferguson, and to provide training and assistance to law enforcement officers.
Resources for journalists covering protests
If you are a reporter working for a news organization and you are arrested or impeded from reporting or photographing events, you should always contact your editor and/or attorneys first.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also is available to help 24/7 with:
Reporters Committee Hotline: (800) 336-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve been arrested, the Reporters Committee continues to work with local media attorneys and ACLU officials, and we can contact them in case of an emergency. Call the hotline and we’ll coordinate with the local attorneys.
Nick Baumann of Mother Jones was among those who have suggested writing the Reporters Committee hotline number on your arm with a permanent marker before you hit the street.
Twitter Hashtag: #fmomediahotline
The Reporters Committee set up and will monitor this hashtag (“fmo” stands for Ferguson, Mo.), which we encourage reporters and photographers to use when tweeting about incidents of interference. We also encourage others to monitor and utilize the hashtag. You can also follow the Reporters Committee on Twitter @rcfp.
Mobile App: Reporters Committee First Aid
In addition to providing information about the open government laws of each state, the Reporters Committee First Aid mobile app has a direct link to the hotline phone number and email. Links for download on any mobile device are online here.
Webinar and Guide: “Police, Protesters and the Press”
In 2012, in response to the arrests of journalists covering the Occupy protests and in anticipation of the major political party conventions, the Reporters Committee produced a guide for journalists called “Police, Protesters and the Press,” which covers general law factual scenarios. The Reporters Committee also archived a webinar based on the guide.
(Note: The guide and webinar cannot replace legal advice from an attorney. If you need assistance, please call your editor, lawyer or the Reporters Committee hotline.)
Missouri ACLU has been working with police, and received earlier a signed agreement with the heads of the state, county and local police stating that, “the media and members of the public have a right to record public events without abridgement unless it obstructs the activity or threatens the safety of others, or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties.” A copy of the agreement is online here (PDF).
Student Press Law Center can help student journalists covering the events who find themselves in need of legal assistance. Student journalists can call the Student Press Law Center at 703-807-1904 or email email@example.com.
If you find yourself in a situation where police are trying to impede press coverage, the Reporters Committee offers the following advice:
- Always carry and clearly display your press credentials issued by police or other recognized official authority.
- Report on events in a way that does not interfere with or obstruct police activities.
- Bring government-issued photo identification. If you are detained without ID, the police likely will hold you until positive identification can be made.
- Carry cash to post bond, if possible.
- If you are detained, comply with police orders and identify yourself as a member of the press. Ask the arresting officer to notify a supervisor that a reporter is being detained.
- If you do not have access to legal counsel through your news organization and you are arrested while covering or photographing a news event, call the Reporters Committee legal hotline at 1-800-336-4243 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.