More than a year ago, I was stopped and questioned for taking photos. It was a good thing I, as a photojournalist, had my press badge and the credentials journalists carry, or else things would have gone south bad — especially considering I was on government property. But, unfortunately, flashing your press badge won’t always save you, as two reporters from the Ohio newspaper The Toledo Blade found out. They were March 28 and had their equipment confiscated. The reporters were attending a conference about an hour and a half away from their newspaper’s location and wanted to take file photos of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, along with other local businesses in the area.
The female reporter, Jetta Fraser, was also threatened with bodily harm, according to the complaint filed. It says Fraser was asked to produce her driver’s license despite not being the driver of the car, and she wanted to know why. The three military police officers then had her exit the vehicle, where they did a pat-down. They used “terms denoting the masculine gender” and threatened to search under her bra, questioning if she was really a woman.
As a result of their arrest, the newspaper is pursuing a lawsuit. In today’s security state climate, I won’t be surprised if they lose.
The crux of the problem is where exactly the reporters were when they took the photos. According to the complaint, the reporters remained on the public portion of the entry roadway, where there were no visible signs that indicated restricted access. But according to The Huffington Post, the Army considers all of the driveway to be private property.
Did the military police officers overreact? Absolutely. As said in the Times article, the reporters took pictures of what could be seen by the public from the street. The reporters were not being sneaky or trying to get classified information. The military police deleted the photographs from their camera, including photos unrelated to the center. And they also overstepped the lines when they allegedly threatened and insulted Fraser. A simple check for their credentials and reviewing any regulation concerning the center would have been simple enough — there was no reason to detain them or delete their photos.
Honestly, I’m not surprised about the hostility towards journalists and the tightening of security and increased restrictions from the government, especially after Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Fort shootings and the bombing at the Boston Marathon. It’s a phenomenon that has been ongoing, as you can see on the popular blog, Photography Is Not a Crime.
Although what the reporters were doing wasn’t anything grandiose or investigative, it’s another chance to look at the important role the media plays in the corroding of our freedoms in the name of security. It’s not unheard of for average citizens to have their cameras confiscated and photos or video deleted despite it being legal to take photos in public as long as they do not interfere with law enforcement operations. And if the two reporters were on public property (and not on military property), then their First Amendment rights were definitely violated.
People might think the reporters got what they deserved, but look at the big picture. Reporters aren’t terrorists. They are U.S. citizens, now having to watch their step while government agencies tread on our lives in the name of safety.