Ohio authorities ignore Supreme Court to arrest journalist

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An Ohio newspaper editor was charged with felony wiretapping for publishing audio that a source recorded during a high profile murder trial. In other words, he was arrested for practicing journalism.

The charges against Derek Myers of the Scioto Valley Guardian ignore the Supreme Court’s recognition over two decades ago that reporters are not to blame for unlawful recordings by sources. In fact, the issue has been settled since the Pentagon Papers. It’s up to judges, not journalists, to enforce courtroom confidentiality rules.

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The ordeal should alarm all those who value press freedoms. Abuses of state and local law to target journalists are every bit as dangerous as abuses of the Espionage Act at the federal level but they often fly under the radar. Myers’ arrest is even more disturbing considering that the judge presiding over the murder trial, Randy Deering, may have harbored a personal grudge against Myers for successfully challenging his prior ban on filming witnesses.

The Guardian’s troubles did not end with Myers’ arrest. Another judge, Anthony Moraleja, approved a search warrant that led to the seizure of the laptop the Guardian had been using to livestream the trial and his cellphone was seized as well. As the Committee to Protect Journalists noted, the seizure — presumably intended to discover the source of the audio recording — ignores Ohio’s shield law and the federal Privacy Protection Act. In addition to violating Myers’ personal rights and preventing the Guardian from continuing its livestream, the warrant and seizure will surely have a chilling effect on sources who may have thought they could rely on the law to keep their identities secret.

That Myers could face prison time and property seizures notwithstanding Supreme Court precedent and supposed legal protections goes to show that journalists cannot depend on the law alone. It’s vital that judges and other local officials face a strong public backlash when they harass journalists and ignore press freedoms.

What we’re reading:

  • Settlement reached in suits over FBI posing as AP reporter: The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press settled lawsuits filed in reaction to an FBI agent posing as an AP reporter in 2007 to deliver surveillance software to a teenager suspected of a bomb threat. We commend RCFP and AP for holding the government accountable for this inexcusable practice.
  • Trump Keeps Musing About Journalists Being Raped in Prison — He’s Not Joking: Trump continued his disturbing rhetoric regarding the news media by again suggesting that authorities investigating leaks threaten reporters with prison time. “When the reporter learns he’s going to be married to a certain prisoner who’s extremely strong, tough, and mean, he will say, ‘you know, I think I’m going to give you the information.”. These kinds of threats from possible presidential hopefuls are precisely why Sen. Dick Durbin needs to push the PRESS Act through the Senate rather than leave journalists to rely on easily changeable DOJ policies.
  • State Dept. gives law enforcement, intelligence agencies unrestricted access to Americans' personal data: Sen. Ron Wyden sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanding an explanation for the State Department’s granting access to law enforcement and intelligence agencies to personal data of Americans obtained from passport applications. We await Blinken’s answers regarding this disturbing development.
  • How America Turned Against the First Amendment: “Moderation laws. Book bans. Courts that keep getting played. America’s politicians are tired of the First Amendment getting in their way, and no one seems to care.” Well, some of us care, but a powerful argument nonetheless. We agree that politicians must stop preying on concerns about new technologies to try to confuse the public into rolling back long-established free speech protections.

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