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SPJ: Law enforcement actions highlight need for nationwide conversation


Update 11/7/14: Since the original stories were reported, the White House and St. Louis County Police Department have stated the “no-fly zone” over Ferguson, Mo., was put in place solely for safety reasons and had nothing to do with limiting media coverage. Also, FBI Director James Comey confirmed in a letter to the New York Times that an agent did impersonate an Associated Press reporter during a 2007 criminal investigation.

SPJ stands by its previous statements and is concerned by the trend of public and private entities at the national, state and local levels attempting to control the media and what it reports. Law enforcement agencies are regularly violating the freedom of the press. SPJ welcomes the opportunity for open dialogue and training to find ways law enforcement agencies and journalists can better work together.

November 3, 2014

Dana Neuts, SPJ National President, 360.920.1737 (PDT), dneuts@spj.org
Taylor Carlier, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317.920.4785, tcarlier@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists sent letters to the St. Louis County Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice to discuss two recent issues that hindered journalists’ ability to uphold their responsibilities as granted by the First Amendment.

Following these incidents, SPJ encourages journalists across the country to open constructive dialogue with law enforcement officers in their communities. It is imperative that those sworn to serve and protect do their jobs without jeopardizing responsibility of journalists to the public.

Two recent examples highlight the need for journalists and law enforcement to come to a better understanding of their respective roles, so that we may better serve the public and promote democracy.

Last week, it was revealed that in 2007 the FBI impersonated the media by using a fake article attributed to the Associated Press. The tactic was used to lure a 15-year-old suspect into clicking on a link which revealed the location and Internet address of the suspect’s computer. This eventually helped the FBI confirm the identity of the suspect who had been making bomb threats to a high school near Olympia, Washington. Although SPJ recognizes that critical situations sometimes require investigative measures, we strongly oppose impersonating the press as a tactical approach.

“The FBI’s impersonation of the Associated Press is a clear violation of the First Amendment, and its impact reaches far beyond AP. The FBI undermined the credibility of all journalists and news organizations by overextending its authority at a time when media credibility is already fragile,” said Dana Neuts, SPJ president.

In a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder by Karen Kaiser, general counsel for the Associated Press, the AP stated, “By creating false news accounts, misrepresenting the source of a news story, and falsely attributing it to the AP, the FBI undermined the most fundamental component of a free press – its independence.”

When news broke in Ferguson of the mistreatment of the press in August, SPJ spoke out and offered training for local law enforcement. We have received no response. Since that time, more news of the department’s disregard of the First Amendment has come to light. Sunday we learned a request by the St. Louis County Police Department to the Federal Aviation Administration for a no-fly zone was granted specifically to prevent press coverage. Though the no-fly zone was supposedly requested due to safety concerns, a recorded telephone conversation obtained by the Associated Press revealed that the no-fly zone was intended to keep the media out.

“If other law enforcement agencies follow the example of media relations set in Ferguson, freedom of the press, guaranteed by the First Amendment, will be further eroded,” Neuts said. “SPJ is ready and willing to work with law enforcement agencies across the country to ensure the public’s right to know, but law enforcement agencies must be willing to meet us halfway.”

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 spj.org.


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