"Police have a tough job to do in situations like the one in Ferguson, but the media also have a right to report on how they do it," said Anthony L. Fargo, a professor of journalism in the IU Media School. "The detention of Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post for no apparent public safety reason, as well as other incidents involving police aggression against journalists, raises disturbing questions about the extent to which police are trying to keep their actions from public scrutiny.
"The detentions in Ferguson are, unfortunately, part of a larger pattern that has emerged in recent years involving police overreacting, often illegally, to being photographed and recorded in public places by journalists and other citizens," added Fargo, who also directs the school's Center for International Media Law and Policy Studies.
"While no one questions that police have a right to protect themselves and the public from dangerous distractions, in most instances the distractions are caused by police officers reacting to the presence of media and citizen cameras as if the cameras posed some sort of physical threat.
"The vast majority of police officers do difficult and demanding jobs well and are credits to the communities they serve. But the nature of those jobs means that they will be in the public eye and under media scrutiny much of the time. And they have to learn to accept that and adapt to it," Fargo said. "Cellphone technology means that nearly everyone police encounter may be recording the encounter, and that is perfectly legal in most situations. Upholding the law means upholding the First Amendment rights of the press and public to record and comment upon police actions."
Fargo can be reached at 812-855-5420 (office), 812-219-0806 (mobile) or firstname.lastname@example.org.