"The fact journalists were arrested for documenting events should concern all who believe in the free flow of information. "

May 21, 2024 | Source: Monroe Gallery of Photography

 Via The Santa Fe New Mexican "Our View"

May 21, 2024

Journalists must be able to do their jobs

Journalists have no right to break the law in covering stories of public interest — that goes without saying even though the Constitution’s First Amendment clearly protects freedom of press. That freedom includes gathering the news, not just its publication.

Because of that protection, news reporters and photographers must be left alone to do their jobs. That’s especially true in a breaking-news situation in which impartial witness is essential. That’s one — but only one — reason police officers’ decision to arrest a reporter and photographer on the University of New Mexico campus while they documented the clearing of an encampment of student protesters is so distressing.

Independent journalist Bryant Furlow and photographer Tara Armijo-Prewitt — a married couple — were at the campus Wednesday morning to observe what likely would be the last days of the encampments. Furlow said he accompanied Armijo-Prewitt, who had been documenting the weeks-long protests, early Wednesday because UNM President Garnett Stokes had said the day before that police would be tearing the camps down.

Like reporters everywhere, Furlow wanted to be on the ground as news was happening. As with any potential clash between police and protestors, the public interest is clear. Journalists must be allowed to do their work. That did not happen last week.

According to a statement released through New Mexico In Depth — an online organization to which Furlow often contributes — the reporter gave his account of events, citing his request for information from officers on where to stand and his willingness to follow police instructions. He said he also informed officers he was a member of the media.

Nevertheless, both Furlow and Armijo-Prewitt were arrested.

The fact journalists were arrested for documenting events should concern all who believe in the free flow of information. Both state police and UNM campus police were involved in removing the encampments. Their bosses — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Stokes — should be investigating to find out why journalists doing their jobs and complying with officers were arrested.

The arrest after a reporter asked for a badge number and while photographing police actions is particularly troubling. It shows an apparent unwillingness on the part of police to have their actions documented for the public to see.

As Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Melanie Majors said, “If the media is arrested for doing their job, where does that leave the rest of us?”

The two, according to Furlow’s statement, were charged with criminal trespass and wrongful use of public property. They spent about 12 hours in custody after their arrests. Campus police made the arrests, and the correct action now is to drop the charges and apologize.

Further, given the tenor of the times — these protests are not going away — police at every level must be better educated about the rights of the media. Officers must understand they have no right to stop journalists from doing their jobs. In fact, when they do so, those officers are violating the Constitution.

There can be no freedom of the press without freedom to gather the news. Period.

 Statement from New Mexico reporter about his arrest at UNM encampment protest 

“Upon arriving on the scene, I asked officers where news media were permitted to stand to document the operation and did not receive an answer. I asked officers several times if there was a public information officer on scene with whom I could speak and was told there was not. I also inquired about who was in charge but got no response. We at all times followed instructions we received from police and stayed behind the yellow police tape. We were arrested while photographing the operation and shortly after asking an NMSP officer for his badge number and name. As I was being arrested, I said I was a member of the press repeatedly and loudly. 

“We spent approximately 12 hours in custody following our arrests. 

“We want to secure legal representation to fight the criminal charges before we speak further about our arrests.

“Thank you.” 

Tags: campus protest First Amendment journalism photojournalism press freedom protest UNM