Quebec Superior Court has sided with the media in a legal battle with police over notes, video and photos from the April 21 Habs riot. The material, which was seized by search warrant after the event, will be returned – unopened – to the media outlets they came from.
When I first wrote about the battle in April, I was unsure of my position, but leaning toward the idea that because journalists did not make any promises of anonymity to their subjects, there should be no reason why they can’t co-operate with police.
But after the more recent riot in Montreal North, where a La Presse photographer was attacked, I’m leaning more toward the idea that journalists can’t do their jobs properly if they can be forced to act as an arm of law enforcement (especially when that law enforcement sits blocks away waiting for backup while the journalists enter the war zone).
I won’t for a moment defend rioters, but I take some comfort in the legal precedent that journalists won’t be seen as cops. Of course, anything they end up publishing can still be used by police, so it’s still a good idea to avoid journalists, or not riot in the first place.
Quick comments regarding you point about the idea that journalists can’t do their jobs properly if they are forced to act as an arm of law enforcement:
I recall that Patrick Lagacé made a similar point in his blog following the Boston playoff riot; I didn’t buy the argument then (neither did a bunch of people who posted comments) and I don’t buy it now. Not to sound callous or uncaring, but the job of a photojournalist involves a certain level of risk (ditto for firemen — or policemen, come to think of it).
I feel bad for Robert Skinner, but he did enter the area of his own free will in the hopes of snapping that one great shot that would land on the front page. There are photographers who risk their lives everyday, some of them entering war zones halfway across the world, just so they can tell a story no one else can. Some of these men and women do this a great personal risk, and without any kind of security backup or “lifeline.”
I admire the courage and the determination of journalists. I certainly feel bad when I read about reporters being injured or killed at home or abroad. Still, I think those who go out in the field must be aware of the risks and dangers that come with the job. I certainly think would be aware that might life might be at risk if I was heading into the heart of a riot to snap pictures.
And more to the point : methinks the men who attacked Mr. Skinner weren’t all that interested in a media/law-enforcement connection; they saw a man loaded with expensive camera equipment and tired to rob him. Would they have jumped a guy snapping pics with a cheap cell phone?
Maybe. Maybe not.