A cause that everyone should be able to get behind: stop arresting reporters who are just trying to do their jobs. That’s what Free Press, a national non-profit non-partisan media watchdog group, is hoping anyway. According to Free Press, as cited in the New York Times, twenty-six reporters have been arrested in connection with covering the Occupy movement.
“After a week in which journalists and police clashed at Occupy Wall Street and related events around the country — and the NYPD arrested 12 reporters — leaders like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are starting to feel the heat,” Free Press said in a mass email.
At its sister site, SavetheNews.org, Free Press has started a letter campaign calling on Mayor Bloomberg and other mayors around the country to stop arresting reporters and drop any charges against already arrested reporters. According to the organization, 30,000 people have put their names on these letters.
“You must publicly commit to defending press freedom in your city and protecting the First Amendment,” the boilerplate wording states. “Please drop all charges against journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street protests and put an immediate stop to all forms of press suppression.”
Free Press also allows you to customize the message, so I added my voice to Free Press’ campaign. Feel free to add yours too. Here’s what I said:
The Supreme Court has long ascribed to the belief that a free press is essential to a free democracy. See New York Times v. Sullivan. Further, the Supreme Court has emphasized that the press–whether it be the lonely pamphleteer or the Washington Post–owes it to the public to keep a watchful eye on government action and inaction. See New York Times v. United States.
Arresting reporters is not only bad publicity, but flies in the face of these democratic ideals rooted securely in the American story. As Justice Douglas said so many years ago, “[A] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea.”
To suppress such speech via a suppression of the press is unacceptable. To arrest the press for whatever reason is unacceptable. By arresting reporters, you’re arresting the lawful manifestation of one of our Country’s most cherished beliefs: that a free press is necessary to a free democracy.