Posts Tagged ‘Student Press Law Center’

Talking free speech from outside a ‘free-speech zone’

OK. I understand a university’s need to curb “disruptive behavior.” So I suppose it’s acceptable to tell someone using a bullhorn near classrooms that he should stop doing so.

But it’s outrageous and downright asinine to come back later and tell that same person he not only can’t stand on a taxpayer-funded sidewalk at a taxpayer-funded institution of higher education and talk to fellow students but has to get a permit to talk in a “free-speech zone.”

That’s how I feel after reading this report from the Student Press Law Center about an incident at Georgia Perimeter College in Atlanta.

If the report is accurate, the administration acted ham-handedly and with censorship in mind.

I’ll be investigating further in hopes there’s more to this than meets the eye.

My opinions are my own until I tell you otherwise.

– Sonny Albarado, free speech advocate.


Occupied by outrage over arrests of journalists at protest events

Robert Stolarik, Julia C. Reinhart, John Bolger, Nathan Heustis, John Knefel, Jacob Roszak, Alisen Redmond, Judith Kim.

All of these journalists were doing their jobs on public sidewalks or streets when they were arrested or detained or harassed by police.

Two of them —Redmond and Kim — are scheduled to be tried in Atlanta City Court this Friday, Oct. 12, on misdemeanor “obstruction of traffic” charges. Both women are student journalists: Ms. Redmond at Kennesaw State University and Ms. Kim at Georgia State University.

Both were arrested last November while covering an Occupy Atlanta demonstration, apparently singled out by police while the two were taking photos and video of the protests alongside other journalists. They spent 14 hours in jail before being released.

SPJ, the National Press Photographers Association, the Student Press Law Center and others have sent letters to Atlanta officials condemning continued prosecution of this case and arguing that student journalists are no less journalists than those who work for the Atlanta Journal Constitution or CNN.

The arrest and lengthy detention of Redmond and Kim were outrageous enough, but to hold a dubious “obstruction of traffic” charge over their heads for nearly a year seems an abuse of prosecutorial privilege and authority.

Most of the other journalists I named above were arrested while covering the anniversary demonstrations of Occupy Wall Street in New York City in mid-September. You can read more about them in this Storify story. (Kudos to Josh Stearns of Free Press for all the works he’s done over the last year tracking these arrests.)

One — Stolarik, a New York Times photographer — was arrested in August in the Bronx while taking pictures of an arrest that was part of the NYPD’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” program. Charges of obstruction of governmental administration and resisting arrest remained lodged against Stolarik as of September 30, according to a letter to NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly by NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher.

The OWS anniversary arrests and the police assault on Stolarik indicate a ramped up police practice of preventing journalists from bearing public witness to public events — despite clear legal precedent that protects journalists who are observing and recording such events and despite an NYPD memo sent out after last year’s raid on Zucotti Park that reminded officers of the right of journalists to be present.

Although the NPPA and SPJ (through our local chapter, the New York Deadline Club) expressed dismay and concern over the NYPD’s actions against journalists last month, the groups extended an offer to Kelly to meet with him and his administrators “to improve police-press relations and to clarify the ability of credentialed and non-credentialed journalists to photograph and record on public streets without fear of intimidation and arrest,” as NPPA’s Osterreicher put it.

As of Oct. 10, NPPA and SPJ had not heard back from Kelly.





Nobody asked me but…updates from the president

Nobody asked me but*…Honesty still seems like the best policy.

That’s something U.S. Department of Justice officials ought to keep in mind while evaluating a new policy proposal that would enable agency spokespeople to be less than honest in answering inquiries about the existence of public records in national security matters.

I understand there are some things that a government needs to keep secret when it comes to national security.

But the Justice Department has the ability to classify documents as secret and deny access. What it does not need is the ability to depart from the truth when a reporter simply asks if a document exists.

Our Freedom of Information Committee is drafting a response to this proposed policy. I was glad to see Utah Sen. Mike Lee weigh in on it as well.

Bad Doc Databank Update

Along with representatives from several journalism groups, I took part last week in a conference call with senior officials in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

We were doing our best to convince them to restore the public use file of the National Practitioners Databank file, which keeps track of malpractice and disciplinary cases involving physicians.

The physicians are not identified in the databank, but by using other public files, reporters in several cities have been able to write highly useful public service stories about cases involving doctors in their area.

That is until recently when the agency shut down the public use file. Along with several other groups, SPJ has been urging HHS officials to restore the public file.

We made what I thought was a very strong and cogent case in the conference call. I wished it were possible to tell you that we changed the government’s position in this matter. That remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

Help for Endangered Advisers

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, once quipped that there are two occupations in America that are more dangerous the better you are at them: suicide bomber and student journalism adviser.

With that peril in mind, the SPLC recently set up a new blog called FACT (Fired Adviser Comfort Team.) It has a kind of edgy, kind of gallows sense of humor about a very serious problem: censorship of student media. Check it out.

It will make you appreciate the often difficult position that student media advisers undertake every working day. If you know of someone who is experiencing similar difficulty, pass along the link.

A Tip of the Fedora

Kudos to longtime SPJ member David McHam, who was honored at Baylor University recently with the first ever Legacy in Journalism Education Award.

Also a shout out to my friends in our Rio Grande SPJ chapter for continuing the conversation on the language we use in immigration stories by co-sponsoring a discussion at the University of New Mexico.

And here’s one of the more creative ways I’ve ever seen of a chapter keeping track of its meeting minutes. The SPJ chapter at my alma mater, Columbia University, posted a video with their singing minutes. These guys look like they are having fun.

A Sad Note

SPJ notes with sorrow the death of Josephine Varnier Stone, an aspiring journalist who died recently after she was hit by a motor vehicle in Richmond, Va.

Josephine was one of the the student journalists on our Working Press team at the 2009 SPJ National Convention in Indianapolis. Read more about her.

Our deepest condolences to her family and friends.

Call for Volunteers

A group of volunteers assembled by the Membership Committee will be making calls soon to lapsed members in the hope of convincing them to re-up. This valuable effort helped us retain members when we first tried it last year.

We could always use a few more people willing to make phone calls. I’m going to be making calls. If you would like to join us in this effort, please contact membership chair Holly Edgell at

*The title of this blog is a nod to Jimmy Cannon, one of my favorite sportswriters when I was growing up in New York City.



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