SPJ joins 39-member coalition calling on Ferguson officials to drop charges against reporters
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Aug. 18, 2015
Dana Neuts, SPJ President, 360-920-1737 (PDT), email@example.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, firstname.lastname@example.org
INDIANAPOLIS—The Society of Professional Journalists has joined 38 other news outlets and media organizations in sending a letter to St. Louis County officials protesting the recent filing of criminal charges against two reporters over incidents that occurred during the protests in Ferguson, Mo., last summer.
"The best way for Ferguson to show that it will respect the First Amendment rights of journalists covering the continuing controversy there is to rescind these charges immediately," the letter stated.
"The fact that these journalists were kept from doing their jobs was troublesome enough. But the fact that your office – after having had time to reflect on police actions for a full year – has chosen to pursue criminal prosecution now is astonishing," the letter also noted.
The coalition letter called the charges against Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly "particularly egregious, as they were not even involved in a contentious or dangerous atmosphere. They were instead sitting in a McDonald’s, recharging their phones. The journalists were ordered to leave a public restaurant, and while they were leaving, they asked questions and videotaped the officers. This is perfectly lawful and appropriate behavior, does not justify the officers’ decision to arrest them for 'disobeying' an order, and certainly cannot justify a trespassing charge in a restaurant open to the public."
Noting that decisions made by police in the heat of the chaos surrounding the rioting that followed the shooting of a young African-American man by a white police officer may be difficult, but should nevertheless respect journalists' newsgathering rights, the media letter gave no such leeway to prosecutors. "With a full year to review the situation and decide what actions constitute a crime, prosecutors have no excuse for making poor judgment calls that do not respect First Amendment rights."
“It is ridiculous – not to mention a violation of the First Amendment – for the county to press charges against these journalists for simply reporting the news,” said Dana Neuts, SPJ national president in a statement last week. “County officials clearly have learned nothing in the last year about the First Amendment and the rights of journalists to cover the news without interference or threats.”
Organizations that signed the letter are:
American Society of News Editors
AOL Inc. - The Huffington Post
The Associated Press
Association of Alternative Newsmedia
Cable News Network, Inc.
California Newspaper Publishers Association
The Center for Investigative Reporting
Committee to Protect Journalists
Courthouse News Service
Criminal Justice Journalists
The Daily Beast Company LLC
Daily News, LP
The E.W. Scripps Company
First Amendment Coalition
First Look Media, Inc.
Forbes Media LLC
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Inter American Press Association
Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University
The Kansas City Star
The McClatchy Company
The Media Consortium
MPA – The Association of Magazine Media
The National Press Club
National Press Photographers Association
National Public Radio, Inc.
New England Newspaper and Press Association, Inc.
Newspaper Association of America
North Jersey Media Group Inc.
Online News Association
Radio Television Digital News Association
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Reporters Without Borders
Society of Professional Journalists
Student Press Law Center
Tully Center for Free Speech
The Washington Post
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.