Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Arresting photographers: What should your security team do in an age of cellphone cameras?

If you're a communicator working for an entity with a security force--from corporation to university to government agency--do you know whether your security force thinks it can arrest photographers?

It's worth checking. Arresting photographers, whether they're journalists or just passers-by with cellphone cameras, has been a particular issue when the cameras are turned on police or police activity. The practice has come under scrutiny in conjunction with police action against mass protests, like the Occupy movement. I'll admit, there's nothing that guarantees coverage like arresting someone trying to cover something...just not in the way you might want. Arresting reporters screams "First Amendment problem" and worse.

Reporters aren't taking this lying down. Journalists--particularly independent reporters--are using social tools to help one another in support networks designed specifically for covering contentious situations. These ad hoc networks help journalists plan for and carry out coverage of protests (like NATO protests or the Occupy movement) where arrests and other risks put reporters in harm's way. A smart-thinking communicator might well help set up such a network when coverage of a protest, emergency or other major event can be anticipated.

For more on the arresting ways of police confronting reporters, see my post "We'll just arrest the reporters: What's your security team communicating?", and take the time to read through the transcript of this useful talk show segment on issues that arise when either citizens or journalists attempt to photograph the police. Here in Washington, DC, the metropolitan police were reminded via an official order that they are not to interfere with people taking photos or video, even when the police are the subject of the shot. This discussion includes representatives from the Washington police union, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Press Photographers Association, so it's a useful take on all viewpoints. You can read more about the issue in this interview with the NPPA's general counsel.

In the program, you'll learn some smart alternatives to suggest to your security forces for handling similar situations. Pre-social-media, cops might've seized that cellphone, camera or SD card if a photographer caught a crime in progress. Today, a more sensible alternative would be having the security officer provide an email for the photographer to share her photos on the spot, rather than seizing the camera or cellphone. Small and useful workarounds like that might keep your security forces from getting covered for overdoing the protective part of the job when it comes to photographers. Read or listen, then share with your on-site police or security team to get a discussion going. (Photo from Toban Black's photostream on Flickr)

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