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NPPA Member Wins Major Victory Against Suffolk County Police Department

June 17th, 2014 by Wills Citty and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NPPA member Philip Datz today won a major settlement from the Suffolk County Police Department in a civil rights suit stemming from Datz’s arrest while filming law enforcement activity on a public street.   Under the terms of the settlement, Suffolk County agreed to pay Datz $200,000, implement a new training program (including a training video), and create a Police-Media Relations Committee.

The NPPA, attorneys from the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine (DWT) and the NYCLU worked with Datz, a freelance videographer, to file a federal lawsuit after Suffolk County prosecutors dropped charges resulting from his 2011 arrest.  In July of 2011 Datz was filming police activity from a public sidewalk when Suffolk County Police Sergeant Michael Milton confronted him (VIDEO), demanding he leave the area immediately.  Datz was wearing his press credentials at the time and was standing near several other onlookers, who were not asked to leave.  Although no police lines had been established, Datz complied and then drove a block away. He was filming from there when Sergeant Milton came speeding up in his police cruiser, placed Datz under arrest for obstruction of governmental administration, and seized his camera and videotape.

Led by attorney Robert Balin, DWT filed suit on Datz’s behalf in 2012, claiming the unlawful arrest violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights as well as the Privacy Protection Act of 1980.  Rather than take the case to trial, SCPD agreed to the settlement payment, and a series of relief measures aimed at educating its officers on the rights of the public and press to observe and record police activity.  As part of these measures,  SCPD officers will now be annually required to watch a training video explaining these rights.  In addition, a newly created Police-Media Relations Committee consisting of representatives of SCPD and local media will be charged with promoting better relations between press and the police and will address complaints regarding police-media relations. Its membership will include a commanding officer in the SCPD, the executive officer of the SCPD’s Public Information Bureau, and members of local print and broadcast media outlets, as well as a freelance videographer or photographer. The SCPD also revised its rules to instruct officers that “members of the media cannot be restricted from entering and/or producing recorded media from areas that are open to the public, regardless of subject matter.”

“This settlement is a victory for the First Amendment and for the public good,” Datz said. “When police arrest journalists just for doing their job, it creates a chilling effect that jeopardizes everyone’s ability to stay informed about important news in their community. Journalists have a duty to cover what the police are doing, and the police should follow the law and respect the First Amendment to ensure they can do that.” Datz has also made a generous donation to the NPPA defense fund.

“We are delighted that Suffolk County has now joined other police departments, the U.S. Department of Justice and numerous courts across the country in recognizing that the public and press have a First Amendment right to photograph and record police officers performing their duties in a public place – a right that is essential to newsgathering and the free discussion of government affairs,” said Robert Balin. “This settlement is a huge victory not just for Phil Datz, but for all journalists and Suffolk County residents. The changes in policy and training agreed to by the County are major steps toward transforming the SCPD culture that led to this unfortunate incident. “The settlement is an encouraging sign in a climate where interference with and unlawful arrest of photographers has become commonplace.

“The National Press Photographers Association commends Suffolk County for working with Phil Datz and his counsel in order to turn a far too commonplace First Amendment violation into a constructive resolution of the case,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the NPPA. “The real challenge now will be to ensure the ongoing training of SCPD officers in order for Suffolk County to be a positive role model for other law enforcement agencies. The NPPA is also extremely appreciative of the tenacious advocacy by Rob Balin, Alison Schary and Sam Bayard of the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine who worked tirelessly on Phil’s behalf. And finally our thanks go to Phil Datz for not only having to endure the abridgment of his civil rights but for his willingness to stand up for his rights and the rights of others.”

The Suffolk County case is just the latest example of a lawsuit forcing local law enforcement to protect, rather than violate, the First Amendment. In March the Baltimore Police Department settled a case brought by the ACLU for a similar amount and also announced a new policy that prohibits officers from stopping people from taping or photographing police actions after officers destroyed a man’s personal, family videos because he taped a police incident, a case in which the U.S. Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest affirming the right of both the public and the press to record police activities in public.

Also see: http://www.freedomtofilm.com/settlement.html  for additional info and links to documents including letter of discipline and Internal Affairs report.

 

Posted in Access, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism | 1 Comment »

NPPA Joins 32 Other Organizations in Calling on FAA to Expedite Rulemaking for Unmanned Aircraft Systems

April 8th, 2014 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) joins the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and 30 other organizations in sending a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) encouraging the agency to expedite the rulemaking process for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations in the U.S. airspace. The letter also calls on the FAA to allow the limited use of small UAS for commercial purposes before the final rulemaking is completed.

While Congress authorized the integration of UAS in 2012 and the FAA has recently implemented key steps in the integration process, the rulemaking for small UAS has been delayed for almost four years. Last month’s FAA v. Pirker decision underscores the immediate need for a safety structure and regulatory framework for small UAS, according to the co-signees.

“The time for resolution has come, and we cannot afford any further delays. The technology is advancing faster than the regulations to govern it,” the letter states. “While the FAA has indicated its intention to appeal the Pirker decision to the full National Transportation Safety Board, we strongly encourage the FAA to simultaneously expedite its small UAS rulemaking and issue notice and public comment as soon as possible.”

In addition to NPPA, the co-signees include a broad array of organizations and industries, from agriculture to real estate to photography, that recognize the benefits of UAS in particular for newsgathering purposes.

In addition to expediting the UAS rulemaking, the organizations urged the FAA to use its congressional authority to allow some limited UAS operations right away.

“We recommend the FAA use all available means, including Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, to allow for some limited UAS operations, subject to the Secretary of Transportation’s safety determination, before the small UAS rule is finalized,” the letter states.

“The current regulatory void has left American entrepreneurs and others either sitting on the sidelines or operating in the absence of appropriate safety guidelines. The recreational community has proven that community-based safety programming is effective in managing this level of activity, and we highly encourage the FAA to allow similar programming to be used to allow the small UAS industry to establish appropriate standards for safe operation. Doing so will allow a portion of the promising commercial sector to begin operating safely and responsibly in the national airspace.”

According to AUVSI’s economic impact study, the integration of UAS will create more than 100,000 new jobs and $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade following integration. NPPA’s Executive Director Charles (Chip) Deale commended the groups’ effort to advocate for a regulatory framework.

“It is unfortunate that the FAA has taken so long to address this issue in a commonsense and expedited manner and we urge Administrator Huerta to include our organization and other stakeholders in its rulemaking process,” Deale said.

The letter co-signees include: Aerospace States Association, Air Traffic Controllers Association, Airborne Law Enforcement Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’ Airports Council International – North America, American Association of Airport Executives, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Society of Agronomy, American Soybean Association, Crop Science Society of America, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufactures Association, Helicopter Association International, International Society of Precision Agriculture, International Stability Operations Association, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Realtors, National Association of State Aviation Officials, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Sheriffs’ Association, National Ski Areas Association, National Sunflower Association, North American Equipment Dealers Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, Realtors Land Institute, Soil Science Society of America and U.S. Canola Association

The full letter may be found at www.auvsi.org/AUVSI-AMA-Sign-On-Letter-To-FAA

Posted in Access, drone, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, UAS, Visual Journalists | 1 Comment »

Smithsonian Security Guards Confront Photographer Filming Protest

December 10th, 2013 by Wills Citty and tagged , , , , , , , ,

A veteran photographer is looking for answers after he was accosted by Smithsonian security guards while recording fast food workers protesting at the museum last week.

Kristoffer Tripplaar was at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum to document workers who walked off the job and picketed Thursday as part of a national campaign demanding higher wages. Tripplaar was recording a confrontation between security officers and a fellow photographer, when he says he was pulled into the fracas.

Tripplaar says it started when a security guard pushed the other journalist towards him.  Worried that his equipment would be damaged, Tripplaar leaned forward to take the incoming blow with his body, and in the process collided with the officer.  A second officer quickly approached, claiming Tripplaar had struck his colleague, and a third tackled the photographer to the ground.

Tripplaar says the violent exchange was completely unwarranted, telling Photographer Is Not a Crime “I can’t emphasize enough that I did not lay a finger on the officer.”

Video of the incident shows three officers smothering the photographer, who appears to be trying to protect himself and his equipment.

Tripplaar’s description of the acting supervisor’s reaction to the incident seems to confirm that the security guards overreacted:

“As I was on the ground a security officer that identified himself as a supervisor came over, told them to let me go and offered to help me up. I told him I would not get up until he made the three security officers back off because I was afraid they would grab me again. Once they backed off, I got up and went back to photographing the protest.”

But the ordeal wasn’t over yet:

“Once the protest inside the food court wound down, I approached the supervisor who had helped me to ask for the names of the officers who had grabbed me, one of which was standing next to him. When I did that they both began pushing me towards a door saying it was time for me to leave.”

Tripplaar has contacted the Smithsonian’s press office to file a complaint, and says he’s shocked by the guard’s behavior.

“I’ve been doing this for almost ten years. I cover everything from the White House to the Capitol. I’ve done countless protests, some of them got pretty heated and a little pushy. And I’ve never, ever, ever had something like this happen to me. Ever.”

Posted in Access, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism | 73 Comments »

Federal “Suspicious Activity” Reporting Initiative Threatens First Amendment Rights

September 20th, 2013 by Wills Citty and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“I observed a male nonchalantly taking numerous pictures inside a purple-line train.”

If this excerpt from a Federal “Tip and Lead” report out of Los Angeles doesn’t necessarily convince you that a crime is afoot then you’re probably not alone.  Nonetheless, that photographer, and many others like him, are now in a federal database under a plan to single out people who may be planning terrorist activity

The problem with the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (SARI) is that many of the activities it targets seem well, unsuspicious.  Worse yet, many of those questioned under the program were engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment.  Despite revisions to try to improve the program, people are still being added to the database who appear to have been doing nothing wrong.  The offense of a man recently added to the database: being “very unfriendly.”  Another was reported for buying a large quantity of cigarettes.  Both individuals were of Middle Eastern decent.  While the language initiative specifically prohibits racial profiling, a cursory investigation of what files are available suggests people are occasionally targeted for their race.   The measure also appears to have the effect, intended or otherwise, of targeting photographers in particular.

Today, in a continued effort to raise awareness of the program and improve its operational standards, the ACLU released a series of the federally collected reports online.  The NPPA joined the ACLU and 25 other organizations in a letter demanding reform. The groups also held a press conference in San Francisco addressing the impact of Suspicious Activity Reporting (“SAR”).

One of the central issues with the SAR initiative stems from confusion over what behavior falls within the programs purview.  The 2009 revised standard for the Director of National Intelligence Information Sharing Environment (ISE), one of a pair of programs that make up the initiative, defines suspicious behavior as observable actions “reasonably indicative of pre-operational planning related to terrorism or other criminal activity.”  Further, the revision makes clear that “the same constitutional standards that apply when conducting ordinary criminal investigations also apply to local law enforcement and homeland security officers conducting SAR inquiries.”  The media groups applauded this as an improvement over previous versions of the program, but note that “the failure to clearly state that ISE policy did not authorize the collection, retention or dissemination of personally identifiable information in violation of federal regulations . . . has led to confusion and abuse.”

In addition, The FBI’s eGuardian program, the other arm of the initiative, does not meet the higher standards of the ISE.  The continued reporting of non-threatening behavior suggests that this disjoint is one of the causes of the problem.

Today’s letter also observed that “Based on the SARs obtained thus far, photography and videography are frequently reported without additional facts that render these constitutionally-protected activities inherently suspicious. This reporting trend matches anecdotal reports from photographers who frequently complain that they are not only detained and questioned, but are also prevented from taking photographs and video and deprived of their equipment by police.”

The NPPA has been involved with dozens of similar incidents.  They are troublingly common, even without a federal program that enables, if not encourages their occurrence. “As part of the ‘See Something Say Something Program’ the NPPA is deeply concerned that these policies create an unnecessary climate of fear and suspicion throughout the country under the guise of safety and security for otherwise First Amendment protected activity,” said NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher.

Among the reforms suggested in today’s letter, the groups recommended the government “[re]move photography and other activities clearly protected by the First Amendment from inclusion in lists of SAR categories or other guidance criteria to prevent the unlawful stops, detention, and harassment of photographers, videographers, and journalists.”

Such a revision would be a step in the right direction to ensuring valuable First Amendment activities are not illegally obstructed, and that it’s the people who are monitoring the government, and not the other way around.

Posted in Access, ACLU, California, cell phone cameras, Department of Justice, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Recording, SAR, Street Photography, Suspicious Activity, video cameras, Visual Journalists | 181 Comments »

NPPA Files Joint Brief With RCFP & Other News Media Groups Supporting Right To Photograph Government Horse Roundup

September 13th, 2013 by Wills Citty and tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Today the NPPA, along with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and supported by other news media organizations, filed a legal brief in support of a photojournalist’s claim of a right to access wild horse roundups on federal land.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is set to again consider whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated wild horse advocate Laura Leigh’s First Amendment rights when it  restricted her ability to photograph a 2010 horse roundup.

Leigh was trying to take pictures of BLM personnel corralling horses in the Nevada scrub when officials demanded she stay in designated public viewing areas.  The views from these locations were obstructed, and Leigh’s wasn’t able to get the pictures she needed, according to court documents.  Monitoring  how the government handles these roundups is important, as they involve removing a vulnerable species from it’s natural habitat.

In the days following the incident, Leigh sought an injunction to prevent the land bureau from restricting public access in the future.  Since then, the case has seen its share of legal wrangling.  The injunction has been alternatively granted and overturned on several occasions.  Now, the appellate court that sent the case back to the lower court last year is set to hear it again.

Though the case involves a relatively specific issue, it implicates a privilege of paramount importance: the right of the press and public to monitor the government.  More specifically, this case is a matter of the extent of access the press and public should be allowed in pursuing that privilege. “Government activities need press access and review, particularly where they occur in remote and deserted locations that the public is unlikely to frequent,” said  Jean-Paul Jassy of the law firm Bostwick & Jassy LLP who authored the brief along with Kevin L. Vick of the same firm, with input from Gregg P. Leslie, Legal Defense Director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Mickey H. Osterreicher, NPPA general counsel.

Like many First Amendment liberties, the right to access government activities is not absolute.  Certainly, some government actions involve serious danger or demand confidentiality to the extent that some restrictions are reasonable. The courts have developed a test for balancing the government’s interest in keeping people away from certain situations against the people’s right to know (usually provided by press coverage) in seeing what their government is doing.

Articulated in Press-Enter. Co. v. Superior Court of California for Riverside Cnty., 478 U.S. 1, 8,  the “experience and logic” test considers 1) whether the activity in question has historically been open to the press and general public and 2) whether public access plays a significant positive role in the function of that activity.  The stronger these questions are answered in the affirmative, the heavier the burden on the government to demonstrate an “overriding interest” that warrants restriction.  The government also must show that these restrictions are narrowly tailored to serve that interest.

In the case at hand, the lower court found that 1) wild horse roundups have traditionally been open to the public and 2) open access plays an important role in “protecting the interests of the overpopulated horses and news gathering for the benefit of the public.”

However, the court ruled in the government’s favor.  The U.S District Court judge found that the access restrictions were warranted by concerns over safety and effective horse gathering.   The NPPA and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press strongly disagree. Our objections were outlined in the brief to the Ninth Circuit:

“The court afforded too much discretion to the Government to decide whether observing the gathers was safe, without recognizing that journalists routinely – and critically – face far more dangerous situations on a regular basis without official interference or protection.  [T]he court below denied meaningful public and press access to the horse roundups, while sustaining unconstitutional restrictions on such access.”

The press groups contends that the restrictions as they stand do not allow meaningful access to the roundups.  Photographers simply cannot get adequate images from the locations they are relegated to.  Further, the government has not presented convincing evidence that the roundups are dangerous to the point that such restrictive locations are needed.

This is especially so, the brief notes, because viewing “large, remote operations like wild horse roundups is not an option for most people,  [and] the media act as public surrogates, conveying those images to a vast public audience and enabling the public to satisfy its civic duty in monitoring the government.”

“The BLM restrictions on access are very similar to those used to limit recording police activity in public places as well as being analogous to the right of access to courtroom proceedings,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher. “We also pointed out to the 9th Circuit in our argument and with an appendix of photographs, just how uniquely important and compelling visual images are to the newsgathering process,” he added. “We are hopeful that the Court will take judicial notice of that important distinction in our favor,” Osterreicher added.

Laura Leigh is represented by Gordon M. Cowan. His brief may be read here. The other news media organization that joined in the brief were: the American Society of News Editors, The Association of American Publishers, Inc., the First Amendment Coalition, Battle Born Media LLC, the Los Angeles Times, the Student Press Law Center, the National Press Club, National Public Radio, Inc., The Nevada Press Association, the Reno Gazette-Journal, The Seattle Times Co., Stephens Media LLC and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Posted in Access, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Regulations limiting photography, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press | 56 Comments »

California Parks Department Responds to Incident with Film Crew

June 13th, 2013 by Wills Citty and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A month after being notified the California Department of Parks and Recreation has responded to a letter sent by NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher regarding an incident during which parks employees detained a news crew and ordered them to delete their footage. KGTV Team 10 reporter Mitch Blacher and photojournalist Arie Thanasoulis were on public property at San Onofre State Beach on April 29, 2013 shooting footage for a story on the San Onofre Nuclear power plant when they were approached by a parks employee who accused them of trespassing, blocked their vehicle and ordered them to stop recording.

That employee, later identified as Bob Warman, then called State Parks Police Officer Ennio Rocca  who arrived and also proceeded to harass and threaten to arrest the pair for doing nothing more than recording video of the plant from an area open to the public.  Officer Rocca in turn called an unidentified employee of Southern California Edison, who arrived on the scene dressed in full SWAT gear. The three of them then ordered the crew to delete whatever video they had already shot under threat of arrest.While the trio claimed the news crew was standing on private property, the “no trespassing” sign they referred to turned out to be for “no parking,” while a fisherman and a woman walking her dog are visible in video footage in an area they alleged was “secure.” Although the news crew complied with the unreasonable demand and deleted a file containing the footage they were able to broadcast a story using video contained on a second file.

In his letter Osterreicher called the actions of the parks officers “a clear violation of the First and Fourth Amendments.” “It is one thing for officers to act when there is probable cause, Osterreicher wrote, “it is quite another to abuse that discretion in order to create a climate that infringes upon free speech under the pretext of safety and security.” He requested that the “matter be fully investigated and the employees properly disciplined if so indicated.” Osterreicher also advised the department by email of another incident that occurred on May 14, 2103 involving its officers, who detained and questioned two other photographers, JC Playford and Gerry Nance, filming near the power plant gate.

Responding to the NPPA, California Department of Parks & Recreation Chief Counsel Claire LeFlore agreed that the officers had overstepped their bounds. “In hindsight, they may have acted with an overabundance of caution while detaining the news crew,” LeFlore said, “but there was never an intention to violate anyone’s constitutional rights.” LeFlore noted that the incident came shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, and at that “staff was on high alert for the possibility of additional terrorist actions.” Osterreicher responded to that statement in a subsequent interview, saying, “it is indeed unfortunate that well-meaning people still somehow equate an act of terrorism with photography.” “In the Boston tragedy it should be duly noted that law enforcement requested anyone who had pictures or video of the event provide them voluntarily – not delete them,” he added.

The importance of defending sensitive targets is well understood, but, as Osterreicher noted, “in any free country the balance between actual vigilance and over-zealous enforcement is delicate.” LeFlore says all personnel involved in the incident have been counseled on how to properly deal with the press “so that First Amendment rights can be protected and both the press and [parks] staff can carry out their functions with minimal interference with each other.” Officers have also been counseled that there is no legal basis for the seizure or destruction of photographs or video.

Osterreicher also sent copies of his letter to officials from Southern California Edison, the owners of the plant but received no response. In its report 10News quoted a spokeswoman for the utility, as saying, “a security officer ‘responded conservatively when he indicated to a television crew his preference that they stop filming and delete their video.’” Osterreicher also responded to that statement, “Indicating a preference that someone stop filming is a far cry from illegally ordering someone to do so under threat of arrest.” “Aside from being factually incorrect, the arrogance of Southern California Edison in their failure to respond to our letter, unrepentant statements to KGTV and behavior of their employees speaks for itself,” he concluded.

The NPPA has offered to work with the California Department of Parks and Recreation to improve their guidelines and training regarding these matters in order to avoid similar situations. The parks department says it will consider NPPA suggestions in implementing an expanded staff training program.

KGTV reporter Mitch Blacher said in an email, “It is encouraging to see the California state parks police work to remedy the oppression of constitutional rights by their officers,” adding, “As American citizens and working journalists our treatment was highly troubling.” “More questions need to be asked as to why California parks police and staff followed the direction of non-sworn private security personnel instead of the federal and state constitutions they swore an oath to uphold.”  1oNews Special Projects Executive Producer Ellen McGregor added, “As a manager behind-the-scenes, who talked for quite some time on the phone with parks police that day, Mickey’s offer train the agencies on the First and Fourth Amendments proves the NPPA’s commitment to a free press, and the journalists at KGTV are grateful.”

Posted in Access, Assault on Photographers, Attack Photographers, California, detained, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Recording, Regulations limiting photography, trespass | 195 Comments »

Press Groups Join in Letter of Complaint to the Vice President’s Press Office

March 15th, 2013 by Joan Blazich and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The National Press Photographer’s Association (NPPA) today joined with the White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA) and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) in sending a letter to Ms. Kendra Barkoff, Press Secretary for the Office of the Vice President of the United States. The letter, signed by NPPA president Mike Borland, WHNPA president Ronald Sachs, and RCFP executive director Bruce Brown, was written in response to a March 12 incident in which a journalist covering an event featuring the Vice President in Rockville, Maryland, was ordered by a Vice Presidential staff member to delete all images of the event on his camera.

As reported by the Capitol News Service, Jeremy Barr, a member of the Capitol News Service, a student-staffed news agency run by the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, covered an event discussing domestic violence held by Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder and Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin. Barr stated that he “unknowingly sat in a section of the crowd designated as a non-press area” because “I didn’t see any demarcation that would have designated a press entrance versus a general entrance.” “The event began and I took a few photos of each speaker,” said Barr, as “people a few rows in front of me were also taking photos.”

According to reports, after the event concluded Barr was approached by Vice Presidential staffer Dana Rosenzweig who asked Barr whether had taken any photos of the event. When Barr responded that he had taken photos, Rosenzweig demanded that Barr delete all images of the event from his iPhone while Rosenzweig watched, telling Barr that by sitting in the non-press area he had gained an unfair advantage over other members of the media who also attended the event. Barr complied with Rosenzweig’s request, stating that “I assumed that I had violated a protocol; I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she was following proper procedures.” Rosenzweig then ordered Barr to wait while she informed her supervisor of the incident, and after a ten minute delay Barr was permitted to leave.

Lucy Dalglish, dean of the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, filed a formal complaint with the Vice President’s press office, stating that “this was pure intimidation,” and that “it’s clear from the circumstance that the journalist did nothing wrong.” Poynter reported that Dalglish stated in her complaint that “Rockville is not a third-world country where police-state style media censorship is expected.” Biden Press Secretary Kendra Barkoff apologized to Barr and Dalglish in separate phone conversations shortly after Dalglish’s complaint was filed. Barkoff told Dalglish that “the incident was a total miscommunication,” stressing that “it is never the press office’s policy to request that reporters delete photos.” Barkoff declined to speak about the incident on the record with the Capitol News Service, and calls to Rosenzweig were not returned.

In the letter to Barkoff the NPPA, WHNPA and RCFP state that “while we commend your office for immediately apologizing . . . we do not believe that such a blatant violation of free press/speech rights protected under the First Amendment should pass without comment.” The letter goes on to cite a May 14, 2012 letter from the Department of Justice to the Baltimore Police Department from a similar case which stated that “Under the First Amendment, there are no circumstances under which the contents of a camera or recording device should be deleted or destroyed.”

The NPPA, WHNPA and RCFP concluded the letter by commenting that “In order to ensure that situations like this one do not ever happen again . . . we would like to meet with members of your staff to discuss “event” coverage from your perspective and ours.” It is the NPPA’s hope that a meeting with the Vice President’s staff will better inform staff members as to the First Amendment rights of photographers and journalists, and will prevent future incidents such as this from occurring again.

Posted in DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Student, Vice President Press Office, Visual Journalists, White House News Photographers Association, WHNPA | 35 Comments »

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