September 26, 2008

Who is free speech for?

Check out this article at the Utne Reader.

“Three weeks after the Republican National Convention came to St. Paul, Mayor Chris Coleman announced that the city will drop charges of unlawful assembly against journalists stemming from protests outside of the Xcel Energy Center. The Associated Press quoted Coleman’s prepared statement: “This decision reflects the values we have in St. Paul to protect and promote our First Amendment rights to freedom of the press.”

In the weeks leading to this decision, journalists across the country have shared outrage, disappointment, and anger at the sheer number of their own arrested throughout the four-day event. And yet, in decrying the treatment of their credentialed peers, journalists fail to recognize that every citizen has a First Amendment right to record events taking place on a public street, including police actions…

…Notably absent from the panel was a representative of alternative media, although as the conversation ensued, concerned citizens and journalists from alternative media outlets took their turn at the microphone. Charlie Underwood, who was a street medic during the protests, disputed the focus on journalists. “Are you trying to reserve a special category of citizen that does not get pepper sprayed, that does not get arrested, that does not have the same punitive things happen to them under these situations of police brutality that the rest of us do?” he asked…

…“All of us have a right to be on the streets. Journalism has gone through a tremendous revolution in the last 10 years. It’s no longer the two or three corporations that control the television networks or the newspapers. There’s no longer this concentration of power that has a monopoly on all the news. There’s a lot of stuff happening on the Internet, there’s a lot of stuff happening on YouTube and so on, that has much more validity for people than whatever Rupert Murdoch thinks is news. I think Charlie’s point is absolutely to the point. I’m not a member of that media, I’m a member of a different, alternative media, and I have absolute rights to witness what’s happening and a responsibility to communicate that.”..

…When Tompkins confronted panelists with the question of how to define a journalist, they displayed clear reluctance to give a definition. Gottfried seemed the least willing to answer the question, simply responding with, “I don’t know.” Deputy Mayor Mulholland said that she believed the mayor was referring to anyone who was there to tell a story and called themselves a journalist, but went on to say, “I have no idea how to define a journalist, and I don’t know that all of us in the room really know how to define journalist. I therefore ask the question, how are law enforcement officials supposed to answer that question while in the midst of a public safety scene?”