For immediate release
Kevin Smith, SPJ President, 304-367-4864,
Dave Cuillier, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chairman,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter Thursday to the St. Louis County Counselor’s office strongly urging that charges against St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman be dropped. Wagman was charged with allegedly interfering with a police officer while covering a protest at a Mehlville School District public hearing. To see a video of the arrest, please click here. Below is the letter SPJ sent to St. Louis County Counselor Patricia Redington:
Dear Counselor Redington,
It is our understanding that charges are still pending against Jake Wagman, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, for allegedly interfering with a police officer while covering a protest at a Mehlville School District public hearing. The Society of Professional Journalists, which represents 8,000 journalists nationwide, urges the St. Louis County counselor’s office to dismiss the charges.
Mr. Wagman was simply doing his job, and after reviewing video from the arrest it does not appear that he interfered with police or acted inappropriately. We acknowledge that in some circumstances reporters in the heat of the moment can act disorderly and arrogant toward police, but this was clearly not one of those cases. In this situation it appears that Mr. Wagman was polite and reasonable.
In this case it appears the police were out of line, telling people that a public sidewalk was private property and belligerently pushing people away for no apparent reason. Clearly it is important that police have the authority to secure a scene and maintain public safety, but in this case it appears their actions were arbitrary and unnecessary. If police were routinely allowed to stifle news gathering in this way we would have abuses of power that would go unchecked and a public left in the dark. It is essential that journalists and citizens are allowed to witness public events within reasonable bounds.
Indeed, in this case the police crossed the line, not Mr. Wagman, and while police cannot be charged for interfering with news gathering, surely there is no need to charge Mr. Wagman for interfering with police. Both sides should shake hands and move on. Proceeding with charges will simply inflame the matter and foster public mistrust toward government.
Kevin Smith, President
Society of Professional Journalists
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.