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SPJ says Scalia should not limit journalists’ coverage of his public appearances


Joel Campbell, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Co-Chair, (801) 422-2125
Mac McKerral, SPJ President, (813) 250-9269 or mmckerral@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s most broad-based organization of journalists, has called on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to respect the First Amendment rights of journalists to gather news when he speaks at public events.

A federal marshal required news reporters in Hattiesburg, Miss., Wednesday to hand over a tape recording and erase a digital recording of Scalia’s speech at a high school. Marshals ordered broadcast journalists to turn off their cameras at two appearances in the city.

“In what can be only described as an ultimate Constitutional irony, Scalia was praising the Constitution and its First Amendment while a federal marshal harassed reporters and curtailed
their right to gather news at a public appearance,” said Joel Campbell, SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee co-chair.

Scalia told students at Presbyterian Christian High School: “You may wonder what makes our Constitution so special. I am here to persuade you that our Constitution is something extraordinary, something to revere.”

SPJ President Gordon “Mac” McKerral said that the lesson high-schoolers should learn from Scalia’s behavior is to judge people by how they act and not what they say.

“It’s unfortunate that Justice Scalia provided a lesson in disrespect for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution he claims to so dearly love,” McKerral said. “This incident makes his remarks ring hollow and places him above the law, the epitome of arrogance for a judge, much less a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The audience got a lesson in power. And Scalia failed his test on fairness.

“Heavy-handed treatment of the news and denying reporters the ability to thoroughly cover a public event in words, pictures and video shows disrespect for the Constitution and disdain for the public,” McKerral said.

Antoinette Konz, a reporter at the Hattiesburg American, said that the U.S. marshal confronted her and an Associated Press reporter about 35 minutes into Scalia’s speech and demanded Konz turn over tape from a recorder. The Associated Press reporter, who was using a digital recorder, was ordered to erase the recording. Both reporters were seated in the front of the crowd listening to Scalia.

Konz said she was distracted from covering the speech for about five to seven minutes. She said was also embarrassed and angry that she was not allowed to do her job. There had been no prior announcement that recordings would be prohibited at the event. The news media and public had been invited to attend.

At an earlier appearance at William Carey College Wednesday, Scalia talked about the religion clauses contained in the Constitution. At a reception honoring the Supreme Court justice, Scalia told television reporters with WDAM-Channel 7 to leave and handlers initially did not allow newspaper photographers to take pictures, according to the Hattiesburg American.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


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