Cops on campus arrest, bully journalists

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A screenshot from a video taken during the arrest of KTBC broadcast photographer Carlos Sanchez, who was arrested while filming a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Texas at Austin on April 24, 2024. (Courtesy of Nabil Remadna)

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Cops on campus arrest, bully journalists

As police stormed several college campuses in recent days and arrested hundreds of students protesting the Israel-Gaza war, the free press was also under attack.

Texas Department of Public Safety officers arrested Carlos Sanchez, a photojournalist for the local Fox affiliate, as he was covering protests at the University of Texas at Austin. But police can’t seem to make up their minds about what, exactly, they want us to believe Sanchez did wrong, repeatedly bringing then dropping charges against the photographer.

FPF and a coalition of more than 40 press freedom and journalism organizations led by the Society of Professional Journalists condemned the latest misdemeanor charges brought against Sanchez and called for them to be dropped — permanently.

As Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Advocacy Director Seth Stern explained when Sanchez was facing a felony charge that was later dismissed, violently arresting journalists is “unacceptable, authoritarian bullying.”

Unfortunately, student journalists are facing similar threats. Reporters for college news outlets have been arrested, physically blocked from reporting, or even assaulted by police or others.

FPF Deputy Advocacy Director Caitlin Vogus spoke to Salomé Cloteaux, co-editor-in-chief of the Indiana Daily Student, and the Student Press Law Center’s Mike Hiestand this week about the challenges facing student journalists covering campus protests.

Listen to the full conversation on X or read about it on our website.

NJ court upholds censorship law

A new decision by New Jersey’s court of appeals sets a concerning precedent that could embolden lawmakers in the state and elsewhere to take up the censor’s pen against journalism.

Journalist Charlie Kratovil brought the lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of a state statute known as Daniel’s Law, which prohibits the publication of the home address or telephone number of certain public officials.

The director of police in New Brunswick, New Jersey, had threatened Kratovil with civil and criminal prosecution under Daniel’s Law because Kratovil planned to publish his home address when reporting on the official’s failure to attend city meetings because he lived far away.

Unfortunately, the court of appeals signed off on the director’s bullying tactics. Read more on our website.

SCOTUS can hold press freedom violators accountable

We’ve often commented on the alarming increase in frivolous attempts by local prosecutors to criminalize routine acts of journalism. The 2017 arrest of Laredo, Texas, citizen journalist Priscilla Villarreal is a case in point.

Villarreal was charged under an obscure Texas law making it a crime to ask government officials for nonpublic information for personal benefit. After the charges were dismissed, Villarreal sued the city officials who tried to send her to jail for asking questions, but the court determined that they were protected by qualified immunity.

Read more on our website about why Villarreal’s case is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to make clear to local authorities nationwide that they’ll be held accountable when they attack press freedom.

What we’re reading

Will the Senate finally move to protect small and independent journalists? (The Hill). Former Representatives Bob Goodlatte and Barbara Comstock urge Congress to pass the PRESS Act, a bill to create a federal reporter-source privilege and stop federal surveillance of journalists.

Journalism is not a crime, even when it offends the government (Reason). Debates over who qualifies as a “real” journalist — whether its Priscilla Villarreal or Julian Assange — are irrelevant when authorities bring charges based on acts of journalism. Constitutionally irrelevant arguments over who qualifies as a journalist won’t protect the mainstream press when the government tries to criminalize its work next.

Man charged with killing St. Louis cop faked mental illness, state psychologist says (St. Louis Post Dispatch). The Post-Dispatch was finally able to report on a state psychologist’s assessment of a criminal defendant accused of killing a police officer after the psychologist testified and a court order barring the newspaper from publishing expired. The judge never should have restrained the Post-Dispatch from publishing.

Prepared, not scared: Digital security for the election season (FPF video). Are you a journalist covering elections? Learn how to protect your digital security from FPF Senior Digital Security Trainer Davis Erin Anderson and Principal Researcher Dr. Martin Shelton, including tips for device protection, safeguarding communications, and mitigating harassment.

As sources increasingly dismiss journalists, Poynter assembles best practices to help (Poynter). FPF Director of Advocacy Seth Stern was among the contributors to a new report by the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at Poynter about how journalists should respond when they’re denied access to public officials and spaces. Stern emphasized the need for journalists to use their platforms to explain and speak out against press freedom violations.

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California police violate press rights

California police are violating state law “right and left” during the protests and police raids on campus encampments. That’s according to University of California, Irvine, School of Law professor Susan Seager. We interviewed her in the wake of arrests of two California journalists in recent weeks, among other press freedom violations. Suppression of the press isn’t supposed to happen anywhere in America, but especially not in California, where it’s explicitly against the law for police to intentionally interfere with journalists covering a demonstration.

Biden signs off on 'spy draft'

Last week, we warned of a dangerous new bill that would expand the surveillance law Section 702 of FISA. Unfortunately, the Senate approved the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, or RISAA, over the weekend, officially reauthorizing Section 702 without any significant reforms and with dangerous expansions of the intelligence agencies’ spy powers. President Biden quickly signed the bill into law, authorizing intelligence agencies to essentially “institute a spy draft” that could require ordinary Americans and businesses to help the government surveil online communications, including those of journalists.

‘Spy draft’ bill threatens press freedom

The Senate is dangerously close to passing a bill that would allow intelligence agencies to essentially “institute a spy draft” and order everyone from dentists to plumbers to surveil their patients and customers’ communications. The RISAA would also allow the government to order commercial landlords who rent space to media outlets, or contractors who service newsrooms, to help it spy on American journalists’ communications with foreign sources.