Here are three examples of camera journalists in London, Canada and the United States encountering attempts to block them from exercising their legal right to stand in public spaces and use cameras to shoot street views or film public proceedings they have the right to share with their followers, and under the circumstances may have a moral obligation to do so as well.
Secrecy surrounds the reporting of certain public events and anything having to do with the financial district. Freedom of speech and reporters’ public access rights are being curtailed, which bodes ill for all citizens of organized societies. Film equipment is being seized and arrests are being made, although no security threats are perceived. These seem to be simply moves to prevent disclosure of every day proceedings in public spaces associated with Big Money interests and at certain government meetings.
In June 2011, six professional photographers set out to tour London’s financial district on foot, taking pictures. Security guards from various buildings try to stop them and get them to leave the area. Some guards are rather aggressive despite being aware that other teams are filming them interfering with the particular reporting team which they happen to be addressing. It’s a wonderful thing that when one guard asks two police officers to intervene, they express the position that they have no right to do so, because as long as the reporters remain standing on public property such as streets and sidewalks, and aren’t breaking any public laws – which they’re not – they are free to do as they like.
The free speech squelching that took place in the United States Capitol may be the worst of these three examples of media suppression. At a public meeting of the Congressional Subcommittee on Energy and Environment where he was working on a sequel to his film, internationally famous film director Josh Fox, of the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Gasland”, and his team were arrested in violation of their First Amendment free speech rights and their viewing audience’s right to know. Republicans demanded that police arrest Fox and his crew at a meeting where they were discussing groundwater contamination in Pavilion, Wyoming which has resulted in 50 times the level of benzene being present in residents’ groundwater. Scientists were scheduled to report at that meeting who believe that contamination has been caused by fracking.
Josh’s movie documents the health hazards inherent in the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and he hoped to obtain footage for a Gasland sequel. C-SPAN was on site to film the hearing for conventional news reporting, but Fox’s crew wanted higher-quality video to use in a new movie. Fox’s statement to the press appears in a Huffington Post article. In it, he says,
As a filmmaker and journalist I have covered hundreds of public hearings, including Congressional hearings. It is my understanding that public speech is allowed to be filmed. Congress should be no exception. No one on Capitol Hill should regard themselves exempt from the Constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution states explicitly “Congress shall make no law…that infringes on the Freedom of the Press”. Which means that no subcommittee rule or regulation should prohibit a respectful journalist or citizen from recording a public hearing.
I agree with Fox entirely. Tell me what you think.