While working on editing the almost 2 hour recordings of the 9-7-12 Traditions (Fair Trade) Cafe billed as ‘PUBLIC’ (the public was invited) and announcing the event would be FILMED, a call from one of the panelists (TESC professor, Peter Bohmer) came urging an editorial policy shift for this publication/reporter.
This call from Professor Pete Bohmer was regarding the controversy surrounding the recent spate of threats/intimidation for covering what was billed as a public event (the public was invited to attend) and announcing well in advance it was to be filmed was advertised. (Traditions in Olympia on 9-7-12 @ 7:00pm) A group of panelists were to make presentations under the title: Resisting Grand Jury Subpoenas & Know Your Rights. These included Professor Peter Bohmer and a couple of young women under Grand Jury subpoena from Portland. The ostensible organizer was a local attorney and Media Island volunteer, Mike Coday, who resides with his wife in the Chehalis/Centralia area.
Pete urged this investigatory journalist to sign onto the notion people had some ‘right‘ not to be recorded/filmed/photographed or documented when participating in a public event such as this unless they ‘consented‘. My position (substantiated in law) is that citizens have no expectation of privacy in a public forum and ‘consent‘ IS IMPLIED–certainly in law. We all know (or should) if we stand up in a crowded movie theater and yell “FIRE!”, that nobody (including journalists) is obligated on any level (legally or ethically) to protect any possible anonymity, to fail to document/record/film/photograph the incident, or to refrain from reporting on it in full. The act need not be illegal. The public has an intrinsic and legal right to the making and dissemination of news reports regarding what occurs in public venues.
Pete went on to advise he would condone attempts to bar or remove this reporter from future public venues if he didn’t subscribe to or adopt an ‘advocacy journalism’ style such as, for instance, Amy Goodman’s. The response he got was ‘advocacy‘ editorials were a possibility if well considered and voluntary, but the reporting on facts, images, and audio in the actual public venue event itself must remain unaltered in the service of accuracy and the public’s right to know unless a confidentiality agreement with a source has been consummated. Though, under some circumstances, identities may be blurred where an immediate or tangible threat to the safety of the subject can be demonstrated (e.g. underground Jews in Nazi Germany) it remains an editorial decision under a tremendously huge umbrella called JOURNALISM encompassing reporters of every stripe and persuasion. Their right to cover news for the public at public venues, however, remains undifferentiated. Moreover, the participants in these events are SEEKING ‘publicity’, as are those who commit wanton public street violence in demonstrations. To then claim news footage documenting their acts (or even their identities) somehow violates there right to anonymity in the absence of explicit consent is the height of sophistry and arrogance–a blatant bid for control through, as it so happens, threat and intimidation.
The right of the public to cover news events in public venues is clearly established and enshrined in our 1st Amendment. The case law easily reflects this fact. But a debate/discussion on the relationship of the press and independent citizen reporters with radical (even violent) elements of political activists might be productive to all interested parties were it carefully modulated/facilitated (with equal time to the different viewpoints) by a trusted group such as the League of Women Voters.
Even were the U.S. Constitution yet unwritten, we (the people) have an inalienable right to speak, to see, to hear…these rights are part of our nature…our humanity, and we are endowed with them by our creator, not by the largess of government…or the consent of radical political elements.
In this instance, the government we have chosen has recognized these rights and codified them in our 1st Amendment guarantees. We have the right to speak as well as NOT to speak…to express ourselves in dance, in speech, in literature, in music, in art, in a myriad of ways as countless as the stars. Similarly, we have the right to report, to record, to document, to film, to photograph, to draw, etc. what we see, hear, feel, smell, sense. It is an inalienable right and part of our nature. We do not, intrinsically, have the right to deny others their senses or documenting, reporting, recording, filming, photographing the same in a public forum. That is the law in America. It is also common sense.
Singling out journalists a radical faction does not like/trust for assault or intimidation is essentially an assault on the public’s rights. Personal ethics of convenience may not legitimately be substituted for those brightly demarcated boundaries established under the law. Professor Pete Bohmer takes issue with this critical reasoning. He does not agree with it. Some of his supporters and many of the most violently radical so called blac bloc anarchists don’t either. He, et ux, profess more conviction for solidarity than the public’s right to freedom of the press. But unless we, the people (public) are to cede the streets to violence, assault, massive property destruction, coercion, intimidation, and blackmail, we have no choice but to resist a course that would lead to eliminating those rights & liberties we have left.
Corruption in government is rife and a direct threat to these rights & liberties. But so is corruption within the people. Both must be guarded against.
Perhaps Salmon Rushdie’s poignant telling the story of going into hiding after a fatwa was issued against him by Ayatollah Khomeini provides the greatest insight into where either/both forms of corruption lead when the press is reviled. You can read Mr. Rushdie’s piece by clicking on the following link:
Have we acquired our own version of Ayatollah Khomeini right here, at home, working as a professor on the TESC (Evergreen) campus?
Why complain of the attention/publicity one seeks?