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First Amendment

FCC Commissioner Calls Petition to Ban Word ‘Redksins’ From Broadcast Meritless

fcc sealFederal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai told an audience at The Media Institute Awards banquet Tuesday night, he disagrees with recent efforts to ban broadcasters from using the word “Redskins” when referring to the Washington, D.C. NFL team.

Pai said he worried TV stations could be fined and radio station’s could have their licenses revoked if they “accurately” report the score of game involving the team.

“If the FCC took these steps, we would be squelching public debate about an issue of public concern,” said Pai. “We would be standing in the way of media outlets reporting the news. And we would be prohibiting speech simply because we disagree with the viewpoint that is being expressed.”

Pai went on to say public officials shouldn’t “sound an uncertain trumpet when oft-offended opportunists urge us to undermine the First Amendment.”

He said he thinks the FCC should heed the words of Voltaire, who said, “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” adding. “Anyone who takes seriously the Constitution—scholar or layman—knows the petition is meritless. The FCC should dismiss it tout suite, as Voltaire might have said.”

[The Hill]

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RTDNA, NPPA Call for Police to Respect Journalists’ Rights in Ferguson

The arrest of journalists and use of tear gas on news crews came after an appeal from the Radio Television Digital News Association for “fair and full access” to the story unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri.

As Poynter reports, RTDNA Executive Director Mike Cavender wrote a letter to Ferguson, Missouri’s chief of police on Wednesday urging “Ferguson police to work with journalists”: Read more

News Crews Hit with Tear Gas, Bean Bags in Ferguson; Police: ‘We Don’t Want You Here’

ferguson news crews

KSDK photographers and a photographer were approached at gunpoint Wednesday night by police in Ferguson, Missouri, who said “we don’t want you here,” according to a report by KSDK reporter Casey Nolan filed early Thursday morning.

Two KSDK-TV photojournalists and reporter Elizabeth Matthews were filing a story for the St. Louis NBC affiliate about the cancellation of school, with their live truck positioned in a Ferguson neighborhood just outside a perimeter established by police.

Shortly after 9 p.m., police in riot gear began dispersing demonstrators about a quarter of a mile from the crew’s location. The KSDK crew captured video of police using tear gas in the neighborhood, with one canister hitting a crew from Al Jazeera America, sending the crew running (video after the jump). The KSDK crew says police then came to them: Read more

Washington State Supreme Court Sides With KOMO on Dashcam Video Access

komo dashcam videoThe Washington State Supreme Court has sided with Seattle’s KOMO in a lengthy legal battle between the ABC affiliate and the Seattle Police Department over access to police dashcam videos.

In the opinion, which was filed today, the court concludes that two out of three of reporter Tracy Vedder‘s public records requests should have been granted.

KOMO sued for access to the dashcam videos in 2011, the same year the Department of Justice was investigating the Seattle Police Department for use of excessive force. The investigation concluded the SPD “engaged in a pattern of excessive force in violation of the Constitution and federal law.”

In a statement to TVSpy, KOMO news director Holly Gauntt said the station is pleased with the outcome of the court battle:

We’re ecstatic about this win, not just for KOMO but for all media across Washington and quite frankly for the citizens of our state. … It was blatantly unfair and unethical for the police department to try and keep potentially incriminating videos out of the public’s view.  It was even more damming when you consider that the department consistently uses dashcam videos in its court cases against citizens and yet doesn’t allow citizens to access the videos when they feel they’ve been unjustly treated by police.

Honestly, it’s our obligation to hold public officials and entities accountable and to advocate for our viewers. I believe we’ve really succeeded in doing that and it feels great.

Federal Judge Refuses to Block WWL From Airing Surveillance Video

A federal judge has refused to block New Orleans CBS affiliate WWL from airing surveillance camera footage of a supermarket altercation between store employees and an alleged shoplifter who died a month after the struggle.

WWL obtained the video from the St. Bernard Parish Sherriff’s Office for a report on the death of the alleged shoplifter, Norbert Gallego. The video shows Gallego, who was mentally disabled, “being tackled, then held down by two store employees for several minutes,” according to WWL. He was hospitalized for his injuries and remained in a coma for a month before he died.

The supermarket chain, Breaux Mart, asked for an injunction to stop the station from airing the footage Tuesday, according to the Associated Press:

Breaux Mart lawyers said one of the chain’s owners saw a promotion for WWL’s news report and recognized the surveillance footage. “The advertisement ended with a statement to the effect of ‘Why weren’t these men charged?’ leaving the viewer to infer that the Breaux Mart employees had committed a crime,” they wrote.

WWL reported that nobody was charged in Gallego’s death after the parish coroner, Bryan Bertucci, concluded he died of natural causes. Bertucci told WWL that it “wasn’t an easy case.”

Watch WWL’s report, which aired last night with the surveillance camera footage, after the jump. Read more

Washington State Supreme Court Hears KOMO Case on Police Dashcam Videos

A legal battle between KOMO and the Seattle Police Department over access to police dashcam videos has reached the Washington State Supreme Court. The Seattle ABC affiliate reported on the case Tuesday:

The arguments before the Supreme Court are the last step in a years-long effort by KOMO to use police videos as a means of checking officer behavior. KOMO first requested a database and copies of Seattle police dashcam videos in 2010 during a Problem Solvers investigation about excessive force and biased policing.

In spite of numerous requests, the department told KOMO that the video records — the way the station asked for them — didn’t exist. After more than a year, the city did provide KOMO with a database, but then refused to supply the dashcam videos, saying there was a three-year exemption under the law.

“This is about every single citizen in the state of Washington and their right to have access to the videos that the police have, and their right to hold police accountable,” [KOMO news director Holly] Gauntt said.

KOMO reports the Supreme Court bypassed the appeals court and took the case directly, which can be done when the court believes there is “substantial public importance.” A decision is expected in three to six months.

Watch KOMO’s report after the jump. Read more

New York Photojournalist Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Following Arrest

The NPPA and the New York Civil Liberties Union, along with New York law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of photojournalist Phil Datz, who was arrested last July as he was attempting to film the conclusion of a police chase on Long Island.

Datz was on a public street when he was arrested.

“Mr. Datz’s arrest was not an isolated event,” said Robert Balin, a partner with Davis Wright Tremaine and lead counsel on the case. “Suffolk County police officers have a pattern of unlawfully interfering with the recording of police activity conducted in plain view. As a journalist, Mr. Datz has a responsibility to cover police activity in public places.” Read more

Following Complaints from Local Stations, City of Sanford Rescinds Controversial Media Warning

The City of Sanford has rescinded its controversial warning that members of the media covering the Trayvon Martin case could be arrested, following pressure from local news outlets who argued that the threat was unconstitutional.

On Wednesday, the City of Sanford, which has enlisted the help of a private PR firm in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, issued a press release stating that law enforcement officials would “not hesitate” to arrest members of the media who approach city employees outside of working hours.

After receiving complaints from Orlando stations, including WESH and WFTV, the city issued a follow-up release on Thursday evening, rescinding its threat. Read more

City Warns Media Covering Trayvon Martin Case: ‘Law Enforcement Will Not Hesitate to Make an Arrest’

As reporters continue to crowd the sidewalks of Sanford, FL, covering the Trayvon Martin case, the city is warning members of the media that they could be arrested.

The City of Sanford issued a press release on Wednesday requesting that “members of the media refrain from approaching, phoning or emailing city employees when they are in their roles as private citizens.”

“It has come to light that there have been a few incidents where city staff were followed and approached at their home or in settings outside of working hours,” the press release states.  “Law enforcement officials will not hesitate to make an arrest for stalking.”

Chicago Mayor Institutes No Handcuffing Policy for Reporters, Following Incident with WGN’s Dan Ponce

Following an incident in which Chicago police handcuffed WGN reporter Dan Ponce, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said this week that he doesn’t “believe in handcuffing reporters.”

“Whether I like what you write or whether I like what you report, you have an essential role in telling the truth,” Emanuel said to a group of reporters on Monday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.  “I want to say this: You won’t be handcuffed. That I can assure you today.”

A little over a week ago, Ponce and WMAQ photographer Donte Williams were handcuffed outside of a hospital as they attempted to report on the murder of a six-year-old girl.  Police detained the pair while they were situated on a median in a street alongside the hospital. Read more

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