America’s press freedom threat

The recent NATO protest arrests showcase just how real our First Amendment threats really are

Topics: AlterNet, ,

America's press freedom threat (Credit: wellphoto via Shutterstock)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

World Press Freedom Day came and went earlier this month. While it’s important to take a day to recognize our right to speak and share information, threats to our First Amendment freedoms happen all the time, everywhere.

AlterNetIt’s a threat that will become very real for those covering the street protests expected this weekend at the NATO summit in Chicago.

Just ask Carlos Miller. The photojournalist has been arrested three times. His “crime?” Attempting to photograph police actions in the U.S. Most recently, in January, Miller was filming the eviction of Occupy Wall Street activists from a park in downtown Miami.

In twist that’s become too familiar to many, the journalist became the story as police focused their crackdown on the scrum of reporters there to cover the eviction. Miller came face to face with Officer Nancy Perez, who confiscated his camera and placed him under arrest.

And Miller is not alone. Since Occupy Wall Street began last September, more than 75 journalists have been arrested.  My colleague Josh Stearns has chronicled these arrests since the movement’s earliest days. Stearns expects to see an uptick in arrests as thousands of protesters and reporters converge on Chicago.

Radical Transparency and the Police

Journalists record many of these arrests themselves as they’re shoved to the ground, shackled and hauled off to jail. Onlookers have documented many of these arrests as well.

The ubiquity of camera-ready smartphones has spawned legions of “live-streamers” who can be found at every large-scale protest streaming a close-up account of almost every arrest. It’s a new form of journalism that’s open to anyone with a mobile phone and the resolve to get between police and protesters.

In the chaos of these events, many live-streamers have been snared in mass arrests. Others are deliberately targeted by officers who aren’t accustomed to the radical transparency of the smartphone era.

Tim Pool has seen the live-streaming phenomenon grow exponentially since he first started streaming Occupy Wall Street protests using a Galaxy S2 mobile phone. “Most of the people are live-streaming because they think the mainstream media isn’t telling the story that needs to be told,” he said.

The live audience for Pool’s coverage peaked above 30,000 viewers during last year’s Occupy evictions, making Pool’s raw and unedited reporting a model hundreds of other live-streamers have followed.

Pool plans to organize a global collective of live-streamers to create an alternative news network that gets the story live on the streets before the traditional news vans arrive. “There are not enough streamers for breaking 24-hour global news coverage,” he says, “but we’re getting pretty close.”

The ubiquity of smartphones has contributed to America’s decline as a champion of free speech and freedom of the press. The U.S. dropped to 22nd place on Freedom House’s annual ranking of press freedoms. We’re now tied with Estonia and Jamaica. Our flagging status is due to the “detentions, rough police tactics, and other difficulties encountered [by those] covering protests associated with the Occupy movement,” according to Freedom House.

The First Amendment a ‘Nuisance’

Many arrests result from snap judgments officers make when encountering a swarm of smartphone-carrying citizen reporters.

People, and even police officers, often don’t understand our rights with regard to public photography. At the local level the newsgathering rights of every individual, whether credentialed as a journalist or not, become even murkier.

But that’s changing. In January, the Justice Department filed a statement urging the U.S. District Court of Maryland to uphold an individual’s “First Amendment right to record police officers in the public discharge of their duties” and to find that “officers violate citizens’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they seize and destroy such recordings without warrant or due process.”

In late March, Simon Glik won a civil suit against the City of Boston, after the First Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled against his arrest for attempting to record police brutality. The court found that Glik had a “constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public.”

In early May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ordered a preliminary injunction against the Illinois Eavesdopping Act, which made the recording of police officers without their consent a felony, punishable by four to 15 years in prison.

Police departments like having a degree of flexibility in interpreting the law as it gives their officers loose rein to arrest anyone they deem a nuisance, even when they know their case will collapse before the courts.

“When I have been confronted by officers the implicit threat is that if I continued to videotape, they would take away my liberty,” says advocacy journalist Bill Huston. Police have harassed Huston as he’s attempted to record public events related to the fracking controversy in Pennsylvania and New York.

“Even though this is constitutionally protected behavior, the police will intimidate you and demand that you follow their orders,” he said. “Even though we get a legal remedy in the courts we are still prevented from videotaping on the scene. Our rights are still violated. This is not how the system is supposed to work.”

Smartphone Journalism

Though cases involving our right to record have not yet reached the Supreme Court, it may only be a matter of time. Thus far most of the lower courts have found a rock-solid First Amendment argument for taking photos and video of law enforcement officers in public.

The nation’s leading free speech and civil rights groups agree. Earlier this month, we wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to address ongoing abuse of our First Amendment freedoms and protect everyone’s right to record.

While the media landscape has changed, our First Amendment rights haven’t. Freedom of the press is more important, not less, when anyone with a mobile phone and an Internet connection can act as a journalist.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>