Thursday, June 3, 2010

Police in some states are arresting those videotaping their actions: an assault on YOUR First Amendment rights?

Are Cameras the New Guns? (via National Press Photographers Association)

This is disturbing, folks. Read the article linked above. Some states are now saying that it is illegal to video tape or record on-duty police officers, citing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws which state that all parties must consent to the recording.

The incidents are increasing and several have every bit the appearance of reprisals on the part of police since the arrests have happened well after the initial incidents. What's even more surprising is that state supreme courts are actually upholding the arrests and convictions. 

I teach a section on First Amendment rights and Press Law in my photojournalism class at Georgia Southern University, and I know for a fact that Federal courts have already ruled on this matter. In Smith v. City of Cumming, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled in 2000 that that citizens have a First Amendment right to videotape the conduct of police officers in public places. Further, that 
"The First Amendment protects the right to gather information about what public officials do on public property, and specifically, a right to record matters of public interest."

First Amendment rights are all too often framed in terms of "freedom of the press" – or in modern terms, the news media – in their freedom to gather and disseminate information. In the eyes of the law, the news media is not afforded any freedoms beyond that of every citizen. This is really about all of us. 

Part of my job is to witness and record public officials doing their duty. An elementary part of the job, in fact. I am happy to say that I have never photographed an incident of police abuse. I have seen overwhelmingly professional, sometimes downright heroic actions on the part of police officers.

Personally, I just can't understand the mentality of some who would hinder the efforts to bring to light the conduct of our public safety officers. Frankly, they don't get enough coverage for all the good things they do on the job, as opposed to the the cheesy things done on the side to garner positive publicity. They should want to be seen as both the professionals and the human beings they are.

On the other hand, police officers should want abuse of authority to be exposed and properly dealt with. That kind of conduct sullies and dishonors the entire profession, just as the conduct of a few unethical journalists compromises the credibility of the rest of us.

Seriously, can anyone make a rational case that recording the actions of public officials on public property is NOT in the public interest? 


What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Eh, sometimes a camera is a GOOD thing around our boys in blue ...


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