— Brandon Wall (@Walldo) August 14, 2014
The arrest of journalists and use of tear gas on news crews came after an appeal from the Radio Television Digital News Association for “fair and full access” to the story unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri.
As Poynter reports, RTDNA Executive Director Mike Cavender wrote a letter to Ferguson, Missouri’s chief of police on Wednesday urging “Ferguson police to work with journalists”:
While our members and the journalism community as a whole understand your department’s primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of the residents of Ferguson during this time, we strongly object to the conduct of some of your officers, along with that of other law enforcement officials as it impacts journalists. This includes placing undue limits on media access to the affected portions of the community, along with the continuing reports of harassment and undue treatment of reporters, photographers and others involved on-scene, who are providing vital news coverage of the events as they unfold.
These volatile situations require cooperation of all parties engaged in the lawful performance of their respective duties. It is simply unacceptable if any journalists were specifically targeted by anti-riot measures, such as tear gas, rubber bullets or similar tactics. Any such actions would be in direct conflict with reasonable respect for the rights of all involved.
The NPPA notes the suggestion that journalists must leave the scene for their own protection, or the safety of the officers themselves, is not in keeping with press freedoms. You can push news crews back, but not out entirely:
On Tuesday, I spoke with Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Photographers Press Association, about how police should treat the media in these situations.
“The last time I looked, that area of the country still is in the United States and the United States Constitution applies there,” he said. “A part of the First Amendment protects the media in covering the news. That’s the whole point of a free press.”