Society of Professional Journalists Concerned over RNC and DNC arrests

[Society of Professional Journalists statement]

Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists, currently meeting in Atlanta for the annual SPJ Convention and National Journalism Conference, are expressing outrage over recent arrests of journalists at both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

SPJ, which represents journalists in all types of media outlets, is especially concerned that police in Denver and St. Paul have displayed aggressive tactics that interfere with the free flow of information and the constitutional guarantee of a free press. Additionally, what may have been viewed as an isolated incident in Denver last week has spilled over to St. Paul. SPJ firmly believes that both incidents represent an unacceptable infringement of the rights of journalists and, ultimately, a disservice to the public.

There is a distinct and important difference between law enforcement officers keeping order and arbitrarily exercising police power, said SPJ President Clint Brewer. It s clear that in both Denver and St. Paul, the journalists who were arrested were fulfilling their professional obligation to report objectively and fairly. As an organization that advocates on behalf of the journalism profession, we can t sit idly by while members of our industry are treated unfairly.

Last week, ABC News producer Asa Eslocker was arrested in Denver as he and a film crew were preparing an investigative piece on the role of lobbyists at the DNC.

This week, the arrests of journalists continued in St. Paul as three people with the independent news program Democracy Now! were arrested while covering the story of protests at the RNC. One of those arrested was the show s host, Amy Goodman, who ran to the scene after receiving a phone call that two of her producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were under arrest. A now popular video on YouTube shows Goodman s arrest. The video suggests that Goodman was acting as a journalist seeking information about her producers, not as a protestor. Matt Rourke, an Associated Press photographer, was also arrested in the same incident.

While SPJ is disturbed that the police have blurred the line between protestors and journalists covering such protests, it is not condemning the actions of police to maintain public safety when demonstrations become violent.

Police have a duty to protect and serve the public. So, too, do journalists serve the public interest, said Brewer. SPJ doesn t object to the police stopping violence. Rather, we are merely alarmed by the disconcerting trend of journalists being treated as if they are a threat to public safety, when they are clearly fulfilling their roles as professional reporters.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists 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 further information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey