Posts Tagged 'first amendment'

The United States vs. Photography

Starting this week we will begin an in depth look at how each of the 50 United States perceives photography by looking at each state’s Department of Homeland Security web page. We will start with Alabama and then move to Alaska. From there, we’ll continue alphabetically through all 50 states, compiling them in our list, “The United States vs. Photography.”

The process should take a couple of weeks to complete, and each state will be graded using our own Photography Advisory System, which is a parody system based on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Advisory System. But rather than using our system to manufacture terror and instill fear in the public, we will do the opposite, and use our system to show how paranoid our government is when it involves people taking photos in public.

We also hope that our research will help advise photographers and tourists on which states are not friendly to them. We don’t want anyone unlawfully detained, harassed or arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights within a state that will happily take your money but not respect your constitutional rights.

Armed But Not Dangerous

Photo by Justin.Beck

Wouldn’t it be a shame if pictures like this weren’t possible because of ignorant security guards? The photographer of this shot at the Transamerica Building in San Francisco was harassed by a guard who was “concerned” by his presence — on the public sidewalk — and made a point of bringing a camera out to take photos of him. (The subject of the photo is another member of the security staff.)

In a recent post, the New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative blog cautions about the dangers of letting fear and security concerns, however real or imagined, overshadow First Amendment protections.

But in the modern information society, the camera is not a weapon; on the contrary, it’s increasingly the main tool of citizen journalists in their effort to spread information. The easiest way that an average person can contribute to the news ecosystem—one of the prime opportunities for civic engagement—might be to take just one picture.

New Rule Blocks Press From Covering Spill

A new rule went into effect last Thursday that bars journalists, reporters and photographers from getting within 65 feet of the oil-soaked beaches, wildlife and booms in the Louisiana Gulf. What does this mean for news coverage going forward? Oh, just that it’ll be really, really sanitized. We’ll no longer see those heartbreaking/maddening photos of sad birds drenched in oil or booms sitting uselessly in marshlands.

Violators could face a fine of $40,000, a felony charge and one to five years in jail. The Coast Guard’s point man Thad Allen says it’s not unusual at all to establish these kinds of safety zones. Hmm…but it does seem unusual to establish this zone on day 73 of the worst oil spill disaster in US history — after nearly three months of futile efforts that are only working toward making BP and government officials in charge of this clean-up look evermore incompetent. It’s so blatantly self-serving, it’s hard to believe they think we’re that dumb. But they’ll get away with it, so I guess we are that dumb.

Anderson Cooper is pissed — as we all should be! He makes a good case for transparency above, saying a rule like this “makes it very easy to hide failure and hide incompetence.” We have a right to see how this spill is unfolding. This is the system of checks and balances — and we need it; it works quite well in disasters like these. Write your representative. Demand they abolish this rule. Don’t take this one lying down.

Read more about this story on Slate, The Raw Story and The Huffington Post.

Photographers, Police & the Law

Photo by discarted

Al Tompkins of puts out an incredibly useful daily tip sheet of ideas and issues called “Al’s Morning Meeting” that journalists can then localize and adapt for their own communities. In response to the recent Gizmodo article, “Are Cameras the New Guns?“,  he interviewed Robb Harvey and Richard Goehler, two lawyers specializing in media issues, about the tension between law enforcement and photographers. It’s an excellent interview with a lot of salient points about photographers’ rights.

Al Tompkins: Are you seeing any new sensitivity by police to being photographed/videotaped?

Robb Harvey: The police have always been sensitive to accusations of wrongdoing or overreacting. I believe they are reacting to emerging technologies that allow millions of people to record events in real time, so we are likely to see more postings claiming misconduct and more efforts by police to prevent those postings.

The recent prosecutions mentioned in the Gizmodo article involved participants in the police action — persons being arrested or later charged. The video they have taken may be their best defense to the charges. Is the next step that law enforcement can prosecute recordings by bystanders? If that were the case, the widely disseminated video of the assault on Rodney King might never have seen the light of day.

Media organizations must remain vigilant and work to prevent the application of these laws in an unconstitutional way.

Richard Goehler: I would not say that I have seen any “new” sensitivity by law enforcement or firefighters here. In the past, I have heard about instances where police might confiscate or threaten to take a camera or recorder, but I would not call it a major newsgathering problem or interference.

I found the Gizmodo article very interesting. It seems to me that most of the cases highlighted in the article involved circumstances in which the videotaping or recording was of alleged abuse and/or improper conduct by the police. As a result, the police appeared more aggressive and more motivated to take action concerning the videotaping.

Often it appeared that the actions by law enforcement were in direct retaliation for the videotaping that had taken place. It was also interesting that these cases all took place in states or jurisdictions that have “two-party consent” statutes that let police officers make the argument that they had not consented to the videotaping.

Another interesting point about the cases in the article is that none of them involved traditional/mainstream media companies/reporters/videographers in their news gathering efforts. My sense is that law enforcement, even in a “two-party consent” state or jurisdiction, would be very cautious about trying to pursue claims like this against the media because doing so would surely bring a huge amount of attention and publicity with plenty of amicus support from other media organizations and journalism groups like the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Read the whole article on

Judge Rules In Favor of Photog

Hey, guess what? It turns out the police are not allowed to seize a photojournalist’s camera, which we all knew but, still, sometimes these things have to go to a higher court so we can double-check. On Friday, a judge ruled that a search warrant used to review David Morse’s photos from a December 2009 UC Berkeley protest was invalid.

While covering the protest for IndyBay, Morse was arrested, along with seven others, and charged with assaulting a police officer and vandalism among other things. A few days later, all the charges were dropped and Morse’s camera was returned, but his storage devices never were. The university was also ordered to return all of Morse’s photos on Friday.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Morse was covering the demonstration outside Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s campus residence for the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center, also known as Indybay. Morse repeatedly identified himself as a journalist before he was arrested by campus police, which obtained a search warrant to look at his photos before he was released on bail, according to the First Amendment Project.

Score one for the constitution (and the First Amendment Project).

Article from San Francisco Chronicle and IndyBay

Chevron Forces Documentarian to Spill

In an effort to defend itself in a $27.3 billion lawsuit, Chevron is trying to get 600 hours of raw footage from the filmmaker behind the 2009 documentary “Crude.” The lawsuit involves 30,000 Ecuadoreans who are suing Chevron for polluting a big chunk of the Amazon rainforest through drilling and dumping, and the documentary covered the ongoing fight.

The “Crude” filmmaker was fighting the request, citing the First Amendment and journalist privilege, but a judge overruled him last week and is allowing Chevron to subpoena their footage. Documentarians and filmmakers are worried the case sets a dangerous precedent. Michael Moore weighed in, claiming the ruling would amount to a chilling effect on whistleblowers. Ric burns told the New York Times that the decision “contributes to a general culture of contempt for investigative journalism.”

The result, he said, would be that “next time, there won’t be a ‘Crude.’ There won’t be a film. That’ll be good for Chevron, I guess. Because the next time you go, you’re going to have a much leerier group of informants.”

Article from New York Times (via The Click)

Reporter Arrested at Karl Rove Speech

Reporter Aaron Dykes, who works for the site, was arrested April 19 at the University of Texas at Austin for questioning Karl Rove during a speech on, among other topics, protection of individual liberties. When Dykes got up and yelled out that Rove wasn’t supporting free speech by allowing anyone to ask questions, Rove shot back, “Shut up and sit down!” Dykes was promptly escorted out of the auditorium and charged with “disrupting a meeting or procession.” He has since been released.

Dykes talks about it on Alex Jones’ radio show here.

First Amendment Travesty: Michigan Reporter Sentenced

Photo from the Michigan Citizen

It was Michigan Citizen reporter Diane Bukowski’s rotten luck that her sentencing came on the day that GM announced it was filing for bankruptcy. Already this story wouldn’t have gotten much play in Detroit, but now it’s as good as done.

Bukowski was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay a $4,000 fine today for two counts of resisting and obstructing an officer at a crime scene in November. Of course the story is as shady as a big oak tree. It was a police car chase that ended in the death of two men. Bukowski is well known for reporting on police corruption. The officer in question manhandled Bukowski, deleting all of her photos – and the jurors saw the raw Fox 2 news footage that substantiates that she never crossed the police tape. Nevertheless, the cops have friends in high places and now Bukowski will pay.

She is appealing the ruling.

Watch the original Fox 2 news report here.

Article from the Detroit Free Press

First Amendment Free For All

Photos by discarted

Why is that when people believe in such things as ghosts, UFOs, chemtrails, or question what we’ve been told about 9/11 those people are labeled kooks, nut jobs, or worse — conspiracy theorists?

However, all of the Jesus believers preaching on street corners, television shows, and radio programs who believe that there’s a gaunt, bearded man up in the sky who rose from the dead, walked on water, fed thousands with five loaves of bread, and is now looking down on us, JUDGING us … get a free ride. And more importantly, these views are shared and accepted by billions.

They can go on and on and on, proselytizing their beliefs but are rarely questioned or ridiculed for espousing such an imaginative idea, which nonetheless, cannot be substantiated at all. They can even get out of paying taxes for organizing this radical concept into a structured religion. It boggles the mind to know that a government system would not only grant this exemption but promote it. Does this mean I can round up a bunch of Big Foot believers, call ourselves the Fundamentalist Church of the Northern Sasquatch and be granted tax exemption status? Thus, finally being recognized, via the symbolic message of tax exemption, as an acceptable way of thinking. Probably not.

Moreover, as soon as someone gets on the airwaves with less than mainstream beliefs, such as radio host Art Bell, they are relegated to the wee hours of the morning and questioned, ridiculed and dismissed by society. And this is the same society and government that grants religious status to Scientology — which is based on aliens mind you, as if that premise isn’t ludicrous or out of the mainstream. 

In the end, I understand we all will have opposing viewpoints and beliefs or follow some sort of faith or moral compass that some find objectionable. And that is why the First Amendment exists: to protect our right to free speech and for us photographers the right to bare cameras in public and to take pictures of Jesus Freaks.

All I know though is that my main man Hay-Zeus, be it on a street corner, the radio, or television, is being shoved down my throat more often than food these days. And I shouldn’t be made to feel bad, or be told, “That’s sad”, by someone because I “don’t fuck with the Jesus.”

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