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NPPA Joins Coalition for Court Transparency

February 18th, 2014 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) announced that it had joined the Coalition for Court Transparency (CCT). Citing long lines outside the Supreme Court and the millions of Americans who are interested in, and affected by, the Court’s decisions but unable to see cases being argued, this new alliance of media and legal organizations from across the political spectrum today launched a television ad campaign calling on the justices to allow cameras to televise oral arguments.

The Coalition is taking the unprecedented step of using an ad campaign to draw attention to the lack of transparency in this powerful branch of government and to urge the Justices to change this outdated restriction.

“NPPA strongly believes in greater transparency at the U.S. Supreme Court.  Our support of the bipartisan coalition underscores our belief that the collective voice of CCT-member organizations ultimately can bring about the necessary changes in court policy,” said NPPA president Mark J. Dolan.

While Congress has debated bipartisan, bicameral bills intended to compel Supreme Court justices to allow cameras over the last 15 years, legal experts agree that the justices could simply decide today to allow cameras – and Monday’s cases regarding the Environment Protection Agency and its authority to address greenhouse gas pollution would be televised. In the past C-SPAN officials have stated that the station would broadcast all of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments if allowed.

Currently, to attend Supreme Court hearings, individuals must stand in line outside the building on First Street NE and wait to be ushered in. There are roughly 400 seats in the courtroom, so many people hoping to view the arguments are unable to, especially in cases that have broad public interest, such as the marriage equality, voting rights, and affirmative action cases last term and the campaign finance, recess appointments, and public prayer cases this term. For these types of cases, interested parties must often line up hours, if not days, in advance of the arguments and in some instances pay thousands of dollars to “line-standers” to hold their places for them.

In addition to NPPA, members of the Coalition for Court Transparency are: Alliance for Justice, American Society of News Editors, Constitutional Accountability Center, Liberty Coalition, National Association of Broadcasters, National Press Foundation, OpenTheGovernment.org, Radio Television Digital News Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Society for Professional Journalists.

“As one element in our democracy’s system of checks and balances, the U.S. Supreme Court is a vital institution that increasingly is growing in importance.  As such, NPPA believes that citizens have a right to view broadcasts of the court’s oral arguments and announcements of its opinions on cases,” said NPPA Executive Director Charles W. L. (“Chip”) Deale.

Despite the Supreme Court’s own reluctance on cameras, Americans have greater access to high-level judicial hearings elsewhere in the country. All 50 state supreme courts permit recording equipment to varying degrees, and on the federal level the Judicial Conference of the United States has placed cameras in 14 federal courts as part of a three-year, multi-district pilot program to study the effect of broadcasting federal court proceedings.

As the Voice of Visual Journalists since 1946, the NPPA has long advocated for cameras in the courtroom on the state and federal level as the lack of transparency erodes public confidence in the Court. Our general counsel, Mickey H. Osterreicher, has written extensively about the subject and we believe the first way for the public to learn about and understand U.S. Supreme Court decisions is for citizens to be able to watch and hear those cases being announced by and argued before the court.

The ad, a 30-second television spot titled “Everywhere,” will run nearly 300 times in the Washington, D.C., market on cable news outlets over the next few weeks.   The Coalition also announced today that through its website, OpenSCOTUS.com, concerned Americans can sign an online petition calling on Chief Justice John Roberts to allow cameras in the Court.

“Everywhere” script

“The Supreme Court’s decisions impact the lives of Americans everywhere. But only a privileged few get to witness history and see justice in action. Leading Republicans and Democrats and a large majority of Americans support a simple fix – putting cameras in the Supreme Court. State and federal courts allow cameras in the interest of transparency. Shouldn’t our nation’s top court do the same? It’s time for a more open judiciary. It’s time for cameras in the Supreme Court. Find out more and take action at OpenSCOTUS.com.”

To view the ad, visit OpenSCOTUS.com.

For more information contact Mickey H. Osterreicher at 716.983.7800 or [email protected]

For more information about the Coalition for Court Transparency, please contact CCT spokesperson Gabe Roth at 202-464-6919 (office), 312-545-8556 (cell) or [email protected].

URL: http://www.OpenSCOTUS.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/OpenSCOTUS

Facebook: http://facebook.com/OpenSCOTUS

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/openscotus

Change.org petition:​ https://www.change.org/petitions/chief-justice-john-roberts-it-s-time-for-cameras-in-the-supreme-court-3

Posted in Access, broadcasting, Cameras in the Courtroom, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Open Government, photographers, photojournalism, SCOTUS, US Supreme Court, Visual Journalists | No Comments »

Federal “Suspicious Activity” Reporting Initiative Threatens First Amendment Rights

September 20th, 2013 by 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 | No Comments »

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

March 15th, 2013 by 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 | No Comments »

NPPA Submits Comments Regarding Orphan Works

January 26th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The National Press Photographer’s Association (NPPA) has, in response to a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) by the Copyright Office, submitted comments on the issue of orphan works and mass digitalization. The Copyright Office has solicited comments for use in advising Congress on how to address current issues involving copyright and orphan works.

These official comments, written by NPPA attorneys Mickey Osterreicher and Alicia Calzada, with contributions from board member Greg Smith and NPPA intern Joan Blazich, discuss the issues currently facing visual journalists regarding copyright and propose solutions for creating a system which would treat copyright holders and users of orphaned works fairly and efficiently.

The comments state that “NPPA is gravely concerned that in seeking to address the frustration of ‘good faith users’ of Orphan Works in order to cure their potential liability and ‘gridlock in the digital marketplace,’ the Copyright Office may create a far more serious problem for authors/owners of visual works.” The comments also note that “As visual journalists, our members are squeezed from every side by onerous contracts seeking all rights for little compensation, the proliferation of user generated content by publishers and the widespread infringement of visual works by individuals and organizations. While we understand and appreciate the concerns of those in the copyright community who need to use Orphan Works, we believe it is crucial to protect the copyright of recently created visual works that, for whatever reason, appear to be orphaned when, in fact, they are not.”

NPPA attorneys Osterreicher and Calzada plan to attend the Copyright Office’s public hearings on orphan works once dates and times for those hearings are announced. As more visual journalists face situations in which their images are misappropriated under an “orphan works” claim, the NPPA proposes that if any legislation is enacted, it must include language that protects authors from predatory practices by those who would infringe upon our members’ work with impunity under the protection of a new law.

“Photographers are lucky to have advocates like Mickey, Alicia, Greg and Joan, who spend a great deal of time examining these issues and and how they will affect our members and all those who create content,” said NPPA President Mike Borland.  “The orphan works issue won’t be resolved soon and it certainly won’t be resolved properly without our voice being heard,” he added.

In accordance with that goal, the comments recommend significant limitations on what works qualify as orphans and which users would be entitled to such  protection. In addition, the NPPA advocated for registration of any uses of orphan works, along with a bond or insurance requirement to protect rights holders’ financial interests in the event they come forward to make a claim.

To read the NPPA’s comments, click here. To read the Copyright Office’s current NOI, click here. To read about previous Copyright Office inquiries on the subject of orphan works click here.

Posted in copyright, copyright infringement, National Press Photographers Association, NPPA, Orphan Works, Photographers' Rights, U.S. Copyright Office, Visual Journalists | No Comments »

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