The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter on behalf of 44 news organizations to the Justice Department urging officials to include police interaction with and release of information to the press and public in the investigation of the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
The letter includes specific suggestions for the Civil Rights Division’s inquiries and the plans of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to develop a collaborative reform initiative with county police, and offers to provide training assistance for law enforcement officers.
“An important element of protecting civil rights is allowing uninhibited news coverage of the sometimes scalding controversies that follow race, gender, and other issues relating to political equality around the nation,” the letter stated. “There is a proud and longstanding tradition of the U.S. news media reporting from public protests, demonstrations, and rallies as they erupt from time to time over the status of civil rights…. At a time when our country still grapples with tensions over race relations and civil rights, it is as imperative as ever that the media be allowed to cover these newsworthy events without fear of unwarranted detention or harassment.”
To the Civil Rights Division, the media organizations urged that the unlawful arrest and mistreatment of journalists covering events in Ferguson be included in the investigation. “These incidents took place against a backdrop of constitutional law that recognizes the recording of police in public places by citizens and by the media as a clearly established right,” the letter stated.
The media organizations further noted that journalists’ First Amendment right to gather and report the news be reinforced to local law enforcement officers and officials. To do this, the Reporters Committee and other groups offered to provide training as needed, as well as to serve as a point of contact for handling future events.
In addition to providing online resources and a hotline for journalists who got arrested or were otherwise prevented from newsgathering while covering Ferguson, the Reporters Committee spoke out against the mistreatment of journalists, and it coordinated a media coalition letter of protest to law enforcement officials.
Joining the Reporters Committee on the letter were: ABC, Inc.; American Society of News Editors; AOL-Huffington Post; The Associated Press; Association of Alternative Newsmedia; The Association of American Publishers, Inc.; Bloomberg L.P.; Cable News Network, Inc.; Committee to Protect Journalists; Courthouse News Service; Criminal Justice Journalists; Delaware Press Association; The E.W. Scripps Company; First Amendment Coalition; First Look Media; Forbes Media LLC; Freedom of the Press Foundation; Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University; Journal Communications, Inc.; The Kansas City Star; The McClatchy Company; Media Consortium; Media Law Resource Center; Missouri Press Association; National Federation of Press Women; National Newspaper Association; The National Press Club; National Press Photographers Association; National Public Radio, Inc.; New England First Amendment Coalition; New England Newspaper and Press Association, Inc.; The New Yorker; Newspaper Association of America; The Newspaper Guild – CWA; North Jersey Media Group Inc.; Online News Association; Radio Television Digital News Association; Reporters Without Borders; Society of Professional Journalists; St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Student Press Law Center; Tully Center for Free Speech; and The Washington Post.
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 www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.
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