Finding a Better Way to Track Journalist Arrests in the United States

I spent a large part of 2011 and 2012 compiling a day by day detailed report of journalists who had been arrested at Occupy protests. In each case, I tried to track down multiple sources for confirmation, sought to detail the circumstances and capture a bit of the story of how the arrest happen, and then from there track what happened to the journalist in the days and weeks afterwards. At the same time I launched a series of campaigns with Free Press, calling for cities across the United States to drop charges against journalists and defend First Amendment protections for journalists covering protests.

So when three journalists were arrested in Ferguson, Missouri, in the middle of August people began sending me tips. I was away from my computer and couldn’t track the breaking news as well as I would have liked, but thankfully as the week went on – and more reports of journalist arrests and press suppression poured in – others took up the charge and helped track these issues.

At the time of writing there are three lists tracking attacks on the press in and around Ferguson, Missouri. Each is taking a somewhat different approach and reports a different total number depending their definition of who is a journalist.

There is an important debate to be had here about who gets counted in these sorts of efforts, and who gets left out. I’ll save that debate for another post, but if you are interested I suggest reading this and this as a starting place.

After a year of tracking, I began to run up against the limitations of a tool like Storify for long-term on-going coverage. Even the lists above, with social media embedded in them, begin to get a bit long and unwieldy, after just a week or two.

Continue reading

Why the SCOTUS Cellphone Decision is a Win for Press Freedom

According to the Supreme Court, police need a warrant to search the cellphones of people they arrest. The unanimous decision, which was handed down this week, is being heralded as a major victory for privacy rights and a landmark case with implications far beyond cellphones.

The New York Times reports, “The ruling almost certainly also applies to searches of tablet and laptop computers, and its reasoning may apply to searches of homes and businesses and of information held by third parties like phone companies.”

Many of the most important debates surrounding press freedom and privacy right now focus on how our fundamental freedoms, so long expressed and protected in the physical world, will translate to the digital age. The decision this week is an important recognition that advances in our technology shouldn’t result in erosions of our liberty.

Right to Record

I know a number of reporters and citizen journalists whose cellphones have been searched, and who have even had footage or photos erased. In 2012 I was part of a team at Free Press who launched a campaign fighting for people’s right-to-record, a shorthand we used to talk about both people’s First and Fourth Amendment rights to use their cellphones to gather and disseminate news. In a letter to the Justice Department that year, a diverse range of press freedom and digital rights groups wrote, “The right to record is an essential component of our rights at a time when so many of those witnessing public protests carry networked, camera-ready devices such as smartphones.”

Not long after that letter, the Justice Department released a set of guidelines for police departments reasserting the right to record as a First Amendment protected activity. Those guidelines cited the case of Simon Glik, who was arrested for recording police activity with his cellphone. First circuit Judge Kermit Lipez ruled in Glik’s favor, highlighting how mobile phones have fundamentally changed news-gathering:

[C]hanges in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw… Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.

While this week’s decision focuses on the Fourth Amendment, not the First, it also has clear implications for freedom of the press. Continue reading

New York City to Pay $75,000 to Occupy Livestream Collective

When the New York Police Department raided the Occupy encampment in Zuccotti Park on November 15, 2011 they arrested more than 10 journalists and threatened or harassed many others. However, they also destroyed an enormous amount of equipment that local journalists had been using to livestream from Occupy Wall Street.

Image via Flickr user PaulSteinJC

In a settlement released this week, New York City agreed to pay the livestream collective Global Revolution TV $75,000 for damage done to their equipment and an additional nearly $50,000 to cover the livestreamers legal fees. (Notably, the settlement also calls for NYC to pay $47,000 for books that were destroyed when police dismantled “the people’s library” in Zuccotti Park.)

Global Revolution TV was one of the most active livestream groups covering Occupy Wall Street and found themselves targeted by police on more than one occasion.  Just a month and a half after the Zuccotti raid, Global Revolution TV’s Brooklyn studio space was also raided. Six members of the Global Revolution TV team were arrested at the time for refusing the vacate the building they were using as studio space.

While livestreaming has been an important part of protests and movements for at least half a decade, Occupy Wall Street took livestreaming mainstream. Over the last two years with the rise and spread of Internet connected phones and cameras, more and more people have taken up livestreaming from sporting events to political rallies. Continue reading

Second Journalist Arrested at Occupy DC Protests

Around 6:30 pm on Friday, February 10, a credentialed journalist who appears to be Jacquie Kubin was arrested at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC. Activism, especially from Occupy DC, was heavy at points around the event.

Jacquie Kubin is an editor with the Washington Times Communities site and Donne Tempo, a women’s travel site. According to people on the scene she had CPAC issued credentials. One person has confirmed her identity, but I am still waiting for confirmation from Kubin or the Washington Times. [Update: I have now confirmed Jacquie Kubin as the arrested journalist]

Based on two videos of her interactions with police, which can be seen together below, as well as eye witness accounts, it looks like she was pushed and then left the sidewalk to get the police officer’s name. After being warned to get back, she is arrested.

In the second video you can hear her say that police are hurting her, that she is not resisting arrest, and then calling a nearby friend to take her camera and call her husband. Video footage recorded by@Timcast and @Karlwitak. (Note: I have deleted a few seconds of audio near the end to protect her phone number, which she shouts out. )

Kubin is the second journalist arrested during Occupy DC protests, and the 64th journalist arrested at Occupy events since Occupy Wall Street began. See video below. Continue reading

Your Actions Should Be Your Credentials

Today’s celebration of the 220th birthday of the Bill of Rights comes after three months of journalist arrests and press suppression in cities across America — the most recent of which happened just this week. When the NYPD arrested a group of photographers, live video-streamers and other citizen journalists at an Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City earlier this week, it rekindled a long smoldering debate over who is a journalist.

The people arrested were all aligned with the Occupy movement, with some serving on the Occupy Wall Street media team, but based on videos and first-hand accounts they were primarily there to bear witness and cover the events. In fact, over the course of the Occupy movement, in many cases when police kept other journalists at arm’s length, the only video and reports coming out of Occupy raids were coming from these kinds of citizen journalists.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The question “who is a journalist” has been raised often over the past two months as reports of press suppression and journalist arrests have spread from city to city. See, for example, the debates here, here and here. I’ve already described my views on this in relation to my own work monitoring journalist arrests at Occupy events: “I decided early on that I wasn’t going to quibble about who is a journalist, and who isn’t. My goal was to account for anyone who was clearly committing acts of journalism when they were arrested.”

But, tangled up in the debates over who is a journalist are very real legal debates about who is given press credentials and what protections those press credentials provide. In general, the press credentialing system is broken — a poor fit for the media landscape we find ourselves in. The courts have already ruled that, as more people gain access to the tools of reporting, “news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.” If the question is not who is a journalist, but rather, what are the acts of journalism that should be protected, then we need to rethink what a “press credential” actually is. Continue reading