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That pesky first amendment and why it matters right now

So many of the issues in this election year of 2016 CE are hot buttons of emotion that one of the major rights that we have as a people being ignored is a travesty. It seems that the requisite action of any organized corporate or governmental organization engaged in controversial situations is to gag, deter, and arrest (usually unlawfully) the press. The citizenry’s rights to freedom of the press are in the United States Constitution. This is the truth, despite the odious creep and overreach of the forces that are hellbent on destroying that right with spurious interpretations under the color of law that seek to suppress the reporting that gives us the truth, without bias, from the front lines.

The journalist, the reporter, the press in its many forms, not the entertainers, are the “fourth estate”. They are the watchmen at the gate, the ear in the chamber, the eye on the arena, and the flow of information to the people. The press keep us honest, they find truth, they give facts, and yes sometimes they give opinions. Some of those opinions challenge what many would wish to hear, especially those in power, those in scandal, and those engaged in illegal, unethical, or egregious behavior. Money talks, and it buys the strong arms and stoic silence of those in the places of power who bear the duty of protecting the reporters.

With  the major news organizations being owned by very few entities, the flow of information finds itself colored, curtailed, and forced to find independent media sources that offer multiple outlets. Alex Jones, a media personality with a provocative brand that endears him to some, and outrages others, coined the term “dinosaur media” when referring to the traditional large name print and network media. In some ways, the hierarchy of the pay-your-dues brand of journalism has become the very crushing walls that are destroying many of the generational divided future news writers. In others, it is that very system that produces quality journalism relied upon to serve.

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Image: Hector Martinez

However, the medium and the messages have expanded, and those on the front lines are under fire at all levels. Unless they become the talking head of delivering prepackaged news copy for our digestion from channels branded now as entertainment, it is more difficult to find the courageous photojournalists and writers who embed themselves in the news sites that matter physically. The threat, and implementation, of coercive and legally questionable tactics create a climate of fear and apprehension that has direct influence on what stories and facts you, the public, get to see.

One example is the situation at the Standing Rock Sioux and the DAPL parties. Smoky rooms and smoke and mirrors are at full steam in this situation, intimidating, arresting, and barring the free press from doing their constitutionally protected coverage of this event. From the groundbreaking small media company Unicorn Riot, to the esteemed Democracy Now, reporters are under politically motivated attack. Readers, there is something very  wrong going on here, when our government is using these tactics to hide what they are doing, and we should watch them closely because  What we are seeing is the encroaching death of the right to a free press.

To give some history on the events referred to here, let us first look at what befell the reporters from Unicorn Riot while covering a news stories. So far, four journalists were arrested while providing coverage of stories related to this news event. Two were arrested on September 13th, and two on October 7th, all clearly displaying press badges and self identifying.

During a September 13th direct action at a DAPL construction site, two Unicorn Riot journalists were targeted and arrested while reporting during a live broadcast. Our reporters were both wearing their press passes and stating “I’m press” at the time of their arrests…..

On October 7th, in Lee County, Iowa, after live streaming an action (from a tree perch outside DAPL property) during which two women locked themselves to a horizontal directional drill, another Unicorn Riot journalist was arrested and taken into custody. They have been charged with criminal trespass…  the same day as court was happening for one Unicorn Riot journalist, another was getting arrested by a Lee County Sheriff’s deputy for once again, allegedly trespassing while documenting a non-violent direct action that stopped pipeline construction. – “Four Unicorn Riot Journalists Face Charges for Covering #NoDAPL”, Unicorn Riot

Next, the story of Amy Goodman, world respected and known journalist. She, too, dared to commit the crime of press coverage at the site of the contested pipeline, and the actions of the authorities and gathered water protectors. She took photographs, and broadcast live on social media, the uncensored events that took place there with the mantle of the reporter on her shoulders. The now infamous footage of the dog attacks at the site did not sit well with the silent and tacit agreement to not cover this story by major media outlets.

This footage led to an arrest warrant being issued for criminal trespass, which has been changed to charges for participating in a riot. This fictive narrative by the powers that be seeks to now levy charges that could, if convicted, place this writer behind bars for up to 45 years. A transcript of her report can be found here at Democracy Now.

This morning, she broadcasted live regarding this case. Find the video at Democracy Now by following this link.

http://www.democracynow.org/2016/10/17/amy_goodman_broadcasts_from_north_dakota

Citizen journalists, investigative journalists,  and documentary filmmakers face difficult decisions and potential consequences for their work. They are on the front line. The protections afforded to big name media are not always recognized in their cases and anti SLAPP laws are not universal throughout the nation.  When the constitution was framed, it protected even the pamphlet maker. Now it would come into question whether live streams of content are equivalent in their protection.

Near v. Minnesota, ratified the Blackstonian proposition that a prior restraint — a legal prohibition on the press’s ability to publish information in its possession — will almost always violate the First Amendment. Near is a landmark, not just because it was the Court’s first decision to invoke the press clause, but because it established a fundamental precept of constitutional law — that once the press has gotten its hands on information that it deems to be newsworthy, the government can seldom, if ever, prevent that information from being published. –

On October 11, Deia Schlosberg, documentary filmmaker, arrested  in Walhalla, North Dakota, covered a story on a climate change protest which shut down four states where pipelines were carrying tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada, into the United States. The film,How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change” was to include the direct actions of these activists. However the film footage was confiscated, she was held for two days without access to counsel, and she three felony counts of conspiracy have been charged against her for covering this story.

We need more investigative journalists, and we need to defend them. We need more news, not less. We need more stories and those to write them. Locally, here in Michigan, there is an opportunity to learn more about this on Sunday, October 30th at the “2016 Detroit Watchdog Workshop” by Investigative Reporters and Editors. Hosted by Wayne State’s Dept of Communication.  The irony of this is not lost on this writer, as this same institution has gone to certain lengths to silence award-winning columnist Steve Neavling’s Motor City Muckraker site’s ongoing reporting regarding the institution.

Suppression, intimidation, and the color of law are all being used to cut our press to minimalist writers fed their information after approved by the very persons that might stand the most to lose. This wave of censorship and stonewalling will only lead to the further erosion of our First Amendment right to have a free press. If you are not afraid of that this will mean yet, you haven’t been paying attention.

 

 

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