Freely available “press credentials” may help citizen journalists avoid abusive conduct by the police or others.
Have you noticed that everything nowadays gets videotaped? With everyone suddenly having a smart-phone that photographs and videotapes, every newsworthy or even trivial event gets recorded and presented on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or onto someone’s blog.
This phenomenon has coincided with the movement of “citizen journalists,” who aim to bring the straight news to blogs and websites all over, giving the unvarnished news to anyone who cares to check the website in question, oftentimes pointed there by the Drudge Report or another news aggregator.
No licenses or formal credentials are needed – just a thirst for getting the straight truth out there for viewers or readers to watch and make up their own minds. What about videotaping the police? So much of what they do is newsworthy, and their salaries are paid by our tax-dollars. You would think that videotaping the police in a public area, not interfering with them, would be perfectly fine.
Try telling that to Emily Good, the Rochester, New York resident who in 2011 saw the local police arresting someone right in front of her house. From her front yard, Ms. Good pulled out her iPod and started filming.
One of the officers involved saw the filming and claimed that he felt unsafe with her filming from that location, so Ms. Good backed up and kept filming. The officer ordered Ms. Good to stop filming and go inside her house, which she refused. Then the officer arrested Ms. Good, claiming that she was obstructing the arrest.
The criminal case against Ms. Good was dismissed as soon as a local prosecutor read some of the details, but she spent many hours in jail, and several police officers later showed up at a meeting of supporters and issued parking tickets for cars parked more than 12 inches from the curb.
Stories like this are legion.
Police simply do not like being photographed or videotaped, and whenever a citizen is caught recording the public actions of the police, it is treated like a crime. Physical abuse of the citizen and confiscation and destruction of the camera or phone involved are common.
A website named Photography Is Not A Crime, or PINAC, has been set up to chronicle harassment of people photographing or videotaping police in public. Just last week the PINAC website reported of a citizen in Tucson, Arizona, who was injured after a police officer yanked the man’s camera, and the strap from the camera pulled on the man’s neck.
Fortunately, there has been some pushback from the courts. The most notable among the court cases in this issue is the 2011 federal First Circuit appellate case, Glik vs. Cunniffe. In Glik, the court held that it is perfectly legal for anyone to videotape the police in public, so long as the person videotaping does not interfere with the police.The ruling is binding only in the First Circuit, which includes Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico, but the decision is persuasive in courts elsewhere.
Word is slowly getting around. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently issued a legal advisory to people who intend to photograph public buildings and police officers in public. The main issues are whether the photographer is in a public place and staying out of the way of the police while they are doing their job. The ACLU also cautions against breaking any unrelated laws, like trespassing, while photographing or videotaping. Pretty simple, right?
Yet the police harassment of citizens with cameras or video recorders continues. About the only thing that police will respect– sometimes – is a display of press credentials.& Enter the Constitution First Amendment Press Association, or CFAPA. Started by James Rawles, survival blogger and author of several
post-apocalyptic best-selling books, the CFAPA website will issue free press credentials and a press badge.
Here is how it works: go to the CFAPA website, found at cfapa.org, read and agree to the Constitutional Journalist’s pledge and member terms. These essentially spell out ethical rules for journalists and provide indemnity for CFAPA. Then download and fill in your name and date of issuance for your press credentials and badge. The press badge would also need a recent photo before you laminate it. That’s it!
Even for someone who does not intend to seek and record the actions of the police in public, it is good to have the CFAPA press credential and press badge handy, just in case. And besides, they are free. CFAPA operates on donations, or sales at its Amazon store, which, humorously, lists for sale trench coats and fedora hats. Presumably, wearing this will enable the citizen journalist to look like one of the reporters in the movie His Girl Friday. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Rawles told me.
But the CFAPA Amazon store also contains more serious items like press badge holders, cameras, voice recorders, books on reporting style and dealing with the police.
And the press badge and credentials are serious, but they “should not be needed forever,” Rawles said. “Our goal at CFAPA is that, as press credentials become as ubiquitous as cell phones with video capabilities, we will be working ourselves out of business. Someday we will just be happy to shut down the website as unnecessary.” Until then, Rawles said, the free press credentials and press badge are “a great leveler,” and another weapon in the arsenal of citizen journalists.
“For a law enforcement officer in public, there should be no expectation of privacy. They are public servants, to be held in the highest level of accountability, and the best way to hold them accountable is to document their activities. If a police officer wants to tell people to turn off their video recorders in a public place, the police officer should move to North Korea.”
Hopefully, this may someday become a non-issue. The reasoning in the Glik may slowly persuade more courts across the country, or even a similar case could be decided by the US Supreme Court and apply to all courts. Or, as Rawles said, “with the police so accustomed to people calling themselves journalists and being able to show credentials at the drop of a hat, that they will start giving everyone the same courtesy that they would give a regularly-credentialed journalist.” That sounds only fair.
Tom Thurlow is an attorney who practices law in the San Francisco Bay Area and manages the blog napawhinecountry.com. Watch for his upcoming book, WhineTasting, which will be released later this fall.DONATE
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