A Victory for Press Freedom

October 17, 2016 (NORTH DAKOTA) A judge dismissed charges against Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. They come from her coverage of security guards using dogs and pepper spray against protesters on Saturday September 3. Goodman was doing what any reporter does regularly. She found herself recording a news story, that was contentious and one that went viral. She was charged with participating in a riot.

The consequences for press freedoms if the charges held were very consequential. Nations do not lose rights, such as press freedoms, suddenly. They lose them this way, when charges are filed, attempting to chill speech and coverage of news that is less than savory.

Democracy Now had this to say after the charges were dismissed on their site:

“This is a complete vindication of my right as a journalist to cover the attack on the protesters, and of the public’s right to know what is happening with the Dakota Access pipeline,” said Goodman. “We will continue to report on this epic struggle of Native Americans and their non-Native allies taking on the fossil fuel industry and an increasingly militarized police in this time when climate change threatens the planet.”

District Judge John Grinsteiner did not find probable cause to justify the charges filed on Friday October 14 by State’s Attorney Ladd R. Erickson. Those charges were presented after Erickson had withdrawn an earlier charge against Goodman of criminal trespass. Goodman had returned to North Dakota to turn herself in to the trespassing charge.

Two other less known reporters have been charged. These are Deia Schlosberg and Shailene Woodley. Schlosberg was in jail for 48 hours and her footage was confiscated, which is a violation of her First Amendment rights. She has been charged with conspiracy and faces upwards of 45 years behind bars.

This should send chills down people’s backs. These are the kinds of actions that our national press usually reports on when it happens to American or other western reporters abroad. These are the actions that are usually portrayed as those of a totalitarian state. They are happening in North Dakota, not the middle East, not China. Our freedoms are under attack.

Press is often at the sidelines of protests against corporations, police power and the government. We are supposed to be there. The job of reporters is to report. The fact that the national media has mostly ignored this story is telling. It is not just about fracking, shale fracturing, or water rights. It is about the freedom to cover these events, without a fear of retribution. What is happening in North Dakota is going to have a major chilling effect among media. It is a dangerous step.

 

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