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SPJ condemns arrest of Ohio journalist


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12/13/2022


CONTACT:
Claire Regan, SPJ National President, cregan@spj.org
Zoë Berg, SPJ Communications Specialist, 317-920-4785, zberg@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists strongly condemns the arrest of Scioto Valley Guardian Editor-in-Chief Derek Myers and the seizure of his equipment. SPJ is disappointed in officials in Pike County, Ohio, for their disregard for press freedom and violation of not only the First Amendment but state and federal law.

Myers, an SPJ member, was charged with wiretapping on Oct. 31 after his outlet posted audio leaked from a murder trial. The charges directly go against Ohio’s shield law and the federal Privacy Protection Act, which protect newsgathering and journalistic source material, as noted by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“When the First Amendment rights of one journalist are suppressed, all journalists are impacted,” said Claire Regan, SPJ national president. “SPJ stands by Derek Myers in his efforts to seek truth and report it, a guiding principle in the Society’s Code of Ethics.”

During the local murder trial, news outlets were permitted to broadcast the proceedings, so the Guardian had live-streamed much of it. When a witness was granted the option to “opt-out” of having his testimony recorded, Myers and other media outlets challenged the order, but an appellate court effectively left it in place.

Even with the no-recording order in place, the Guardian received an audio recording “by a courthouse source who is authorized to have their cell phone in the room.” The Guardian posted the recording online on Oct. 28.

Although Myers says neither he nor any Guardian staff recorded audio of the witness’s testimony, he was still arrested Nov. 1 and charged with wiretapping. His laptop was seized the same day from the courthouse and his phone was taken the next day as he entered the courthouse. Neither seizure was supported by the warrant which expired Oct. 31 and did not mention his cell phone.

According to the arrest warrant, Myers was charged because he “use[d]” an unlawful recording “knowing or having reason to know” the recording was unlawfully made. However, the Supreme Court has made clear that the First Amendment protects journalist’s rights to publish materials that someone else obtained unlawfully, even if they know the source broke the law.

It is a journalist’s job to keep the public informed and Myers did just that by publishing information he was given by a confidential and trusted source. Myers should not face prosecution for simply doing his job as a journalist. Furthermore, the Pike County officials’ disregard for the law is yet another reason all charges against Myers should be dropped.

During a public comment period at the SPJ Board of Directors’ meeting Wednesday, Myers explained his situation and asked the Board for support. The Board unanimously voted to issue a statement condemning his arrest.

SPJ is joining CPJ, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in supporting Myers.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.

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