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Reporters Committee, news organizations urge court to open wild horse roundups to the press

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A lower court’s decision to allow the government to limit journalists’ observation of wild horse roundups by the Bureau of…

A lower court’s decision to allow the government to limit journalists’ observation of wild horse roundups by the Bureau of Land Management should be overturned, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and more than a dozen news organizations argued in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals (9th Cir.).

“The public interests that favor visual coverage far outweigh the perceived but unsubstantiated concerns by BLM that the presence of journalists and others with cameras would have a negative impact on the efficiency of the wild horse roundups or endanger the safety of the public and those involved,” the brief argued.

Photojournalist Laura Leigh was provided only restricted and limited access to watch the horse roundups on government land in Nevada. BLM officials cited observers’ safety and administrative issues for the limitations, and the lower court agreed.

“Although the government argues that audio-visual coverage must be restricted in order to preserve the agency’s administrative convenience as well as to satisfy safety concerns, it has failed to show how those arguments override Leigh’s First Amendment rights, or how they are so narrowly tailored to serve those interests,” the brief argued. “It appears their expressed concerns, far from being essential to preserve higher values, are speculative at best and at worst are overly broad and ambiguous, often arbitrarily and capriciously chilling visual journalists’ ability to cover matters of public concern.”

In addition, the brief noted that photojournalists, acting as the public’s surrogate, are accustomed to dangerous assignments – including covering warzones, natural disasters and terrorist attacks. “Government’s paternalistic claim that restrictions on Leigh and others can be justified by concerns for their safety should be rejected as invalid justifications for impinging on journalists’ and the public’s First Amendment rights to report on – and receive information about – government activities,” the brief argued.

Joining the Reporters Committee and the National Press Photographers Association on the brief – which was prepared by Bostwick & Jassy LLP in Los Angeles – were: American Society of News Editors; The Association of American Publishers Inc.; Battle Born Media LLC; First Amendment Coalition; The National Press Club; National Public Radio Inc.; The Nevada Press Association; The Reno Gazette-Journal; The Seattle Times Company; Stephens Media LLC; Student Press Law Center; and Society of Professional Journalists.

About the Reporters Committee

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, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· Brief: Leigh v. Jewell

· News: Photographer wins appeal over access to horse roundup

· Release: Appeals court agrees with Reporters Committee brief, finding First Amendment must be weighed in any official restriction on media