Archive for August, 2011

Court decision helps citizens who record police

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

A federal appeals court decision last week has fascinating implications for citizens and journalists who record police at work – such as during an arrest or controlling a crowd during a protest.

The 1st Circuit U.S Court of Appeals ruled that a Boston man’s First Amendment rights were violated when he was arrested for using his cell phone’s digital video camera to record police arresting a man on the Boston Commons.

The police used a state law against recording a conversation without both people’s permission to charge the man, Simon Gilk.

Gilk pulled out his cell phone and began recording the arrest when he heard a bystander call, “Stop, you’re hurting him.” Gilk was concerned that the police may have been using excessive force.

This decision could clarify a situation that has been fraught with peril for journalists and citizen journalists – regular folks like Mr. Gilk who take it upon themselves to record possible police misconduct.

Now that anyone can carry a video camera with them – and most people do – this is not an unlikely scenario. Numerous people – both journalists and citizens – have been arrested over the last few years in similar situations.

I show my class a video of journalist Amy Goodman being arrested by police while covering an anti-war protest during the Republican 2008 presidential convention. The video was taken by a citizen journalist, by the way. Goodman was arrested when she tried to stop police from arresting her colleagues.

In most cases, especially involving local police and local news outlets, officers are professional and respectful in their treatment of journalists at the scene of an accident, arrest, protest or whatever. They understand the First Amendment rights of journalists.

But there certainly are exceptions, and many professional photographers can tell stories about times they were told to put their cameras away or face arrest.

And I can only imagine what police think when citizen journalists get our their cameras and start recording. It’s so easy for officers to arrest them and claim they were participating in the protest or getting in the way of police doing their job.

Only time will tell whether last week’s decision will have a lasting effect strengthening the First Amendment rights of citizens to record police at work. I hope it does.

Debt debate highlighted fair reporting issues

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

I listened to a Washington Post reporter being interviewed on the debt ceiling debate, and it was a fascinating glimpse into the challenge of covering politics in the current highly partisan climate.

Observers of national media would expect a Washington Post reporter to be critical of the Republicans for their beat-Obama-at-all-costs approach to the negotiations.

They appeared to be willing to damage the U.S. economy and its standing in global financial markets, rather than give in and let Obama have a victory.

But the Post reporter was adamant that he wasn’t going to appear biased either way. He complimented the Republicans for following their campaign promises – they said they weren’t going to raise taxes, so why should anyone expect them to agree to tax increases – even when the stakes are so high.

It was almost comical at times how hard the Post reporter was working to say equally good and bad things about both sides.

That continues to be the biggest difference between mainstream media and conservative media like Fox News. While many Fox reporters aren’t shy about openly showing their bias, reporters for traditional media – like the networks, CNN and the big eastern newspapers – try to maintain at least an appearance of balance.

 Their biases are more subtle, coming from socio-economic factors largely out of their control. They were raised by progressive parents, attended liberal universities and hang out with liberal friends.

No matter how hard they try, they’re coming to the table with a perspective they can’t override.

With Fox, a conservative perspective is a business decision. Rupert Murdoch knows that he can dominate audience share within the large segment of America that is conservative by speaking their language, giving them the angle they’re looking for, playing to their own biases.

It works. Fox News is making lots of money. Its audience share among conservative TV watchers is huge. It doesn’t matter that liberals make fun of Fox – by dominating one large segment, Fox has the overall lead among cable news shows, and is approaching the size of the network news audiences.

For years, I’ve been among the group of media watchers who appreciate Fox News and the other conservative media for the balance they bring to the table. They force the Eastern establishment media to try harder to achieve fairness.

Citizens who really want the “truth” can watch a little of both and feel comfortable they’re getting as close as possible.

Unfortunately, too many Americans don’t avail themselves of this opportunity. If they’re conservative, they only watch Fox or read the Wall Street Journal. If they’re liberal, they only watch CNN or read the New York Times.

Virtually every liberal would benefit from an occasional trip to Fox, and virtually every conservative would benefit from exposure to other perspectives than they get from a steady diet of Fox.

The Internet should have improved this situation with all the choices it offers. But the same principle applies – if you only go to conservative or liberal websites, you’ll only get one viewpoint.

Oh, well. You can lead a horse to water …