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Monday, May 7, 2012

Journalism Ethics Expert to Seattle Media: "Anything that you haven't already published, you should not be handing over without a subpoena."

Posted by on Mon, May 7, 2012 at 1:40 PM

Told of the Seattle Police Department's plan to subpoena edited and unedited May Day protest video from local media organizations—and of the possibility that KIRO TV has already handed over some video without a subpoena—Kelly McBride, senior faculty for ethics at The Poynter Institute, had a message for Seattle news outlets:

“Anything that you haven’t already published, you should not be handing over without a subpoena.”

The reason for this, McBride explained, is so that a request for evidence "doesn’t become this big fishing expedition by some law enforcement agency attempting to turn a newsroom into an arm of the law.”

Requiring a subpoena—and then fighting to limit that subpoena so that it covers no more than absolutely necessary—is not just essential to maintaining independence, McBride added. It's also about making the police do their own work.

“Really, they should not be asking journalists to do their jobs for them," she said.

McBride continued:

Journalists are an independent organization meant to serve as a watchdog on the powerful. And when they simply capitulate, without so much as making them get a subpoena, you really do become a partner with law enforcement. And if I’m a member of the public, and I know that’s happening, I’m going to be very wary of that newsroom’s independence.

Judges by and large understand the issues at play in situations like this, McBride said, and so it's well worth a media organization's time and expense to have courts weigh in on an effort like the one the SPD is now describing.

"For the most part, judges recognize the need of newsrooms to remain independent and to uphold the appearance of independence as well," she continued. "Because they recognize that when information gathered for the purpose of a story becomes part of a criminal case, it has a chilling effect on journalists’ ability to gather information in the future. And that’s bad for society."

Put simply, McBride said: "It’s foolish to hand over information without a subpoena to the police department."

Still no comment from KIRO on whether it handed protest video over to the SPD without a subpoena.

UPDATE: KIRO's response.


Comments (15) RSS

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Since the fucktards in black were beating on cameramen, those same cameramen who normally wouldn't hand over footage without a court order were actively volunteering it last week.
Don't fuck with the media.
Posted by SPG on May 7, 2012 at 1:44 PM · Report this
I understand why journalists should not provide information gathered under any semblance of a confidentiality agreement or from a source who thinks that they are being protected in any way by the media organization. However, this footage was taken in public where there is no expectation of privacy by a cameraman who had no special access. Why should anyone think such footage would be protected? It may be doing the police's job, but I don't understand why journalists should not help the police in cases where they have no relationship with the people in the footage.
Posted by saeculorum on May 7, 2012 at 1:46 PM · Report this
Vince 3
They should just broadcast what they handed over. End of story.
Posted by Vince on May 7, 2012 at 1:47 PM · Report this
pfffter 4
@2 Apparently, her spelling it out didn't help you, so let's try this. When people begin to see journalists' cameras/recorders as an extension of the police state, journalism suffers. No one trusts the journalists, so no one speaks to them. Make sense now? This is why they generally require a subpoena and try to fiercely limit/restrict what is handed over to the police.
Posted by pfffter on May 7, 2012 at 2:08 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 5
I still say this is because they damaged the cameraman's car.

Payback's a bitch.
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 7, 2012 at 2:27 PM · Report this
Erin Resso 6
Kinda like why we're not supposed to feed the animals when we're camping, right?
Posted by Erin Resso on May 7, 2012 at 2:41 PM · Report this
Well if the journalists are independent and an assault happens right in front of their camera, they can independently decide to give the footage to the cops right?

It's not like they work for The Poynter Institute.
Posted by spock on May 7, 2012 at 3:41 PM · Report this
The reaction of Eli and this expert highlights just how divorced rarefied journalistic ethics have become from normal human ethics. I fully understand the cases they make, both in the sense of safeguarding journalists' continued access to sources and of safeguarding society against an emerging police state. But there is a whole lot to distingush this real case from their hypothetical nightmare scenarios. This was a story about criminal behavior that the journalists, the public, and the vandals all understood as such. The journalists hadn't made any arrangement for inside access with the vandals, who were performing their acts very publicly. The whole story was about the crimes, so the police aren't using a story whose subjects thought was about one thing to dig up evidence of different acts. Mainstream journalists understand that the mainstream public doesn't want them to be neutral between the police and criminals. Apparently the Stranger's journalists don't.
Posted by David Wright on May 7, 2012 at 4:22 PM · Report this
pfffter 9
@8 You've got to be kidding me. The Stranger has been in the tank against OWS. I'm surprised they weren't down at KIRO knocking on the windows demanding they turn over the footage to the police, all while Cienna Madrid swoons and clutches her pearls.
Posted by pfffter on May 7, 2012 at 4:36 PM · Report this
@8: Read @4, he explains it succinctly. You have no idea what the cops may be looking for in this footage; very often they just want to go on a fishing expedition to see what might turn up. It's important that journalists draw the line and not allow that.

Don't try to speak for "mainstream journalists." You know not of what you speak.
Posted by bigyaz on May 7, 2012 at 4:37 PM · Report this
seandr 11
So, it's fine for journalists to show incriminating footage of mayhem for entertainment and profit, but as soon as the police want a look, they need a subpoena? How about if the cops promise to click on the advertisement links, or click the Like button?

Either the world needs a lot more Journalism Ethics Experts, or a lot fewer, hard to say which.
Posted by seandr on May 7, 2012 at 8:50 PM · Report this
Ballard Pimp 12
#8, 9, and 11 all have their heads up someplace unlit. No one except the reporters and photographers know what is in the outtakes. They may have done an interview on background with the head of the FBI Cointel unit.
Posted by Ballard Pimp on May 7, 2012 at 10:34 PM · Report this
As a citizen investigatory photojournalist, I've been threatened by elements from every political persuasion and social niche. I've never been personally threatened or assaulted by the folks in black, but I have been by ignorant law enforcement agents. Worse, too many law enforcement agents engage in the flip side of the same coin: selective enforcement. i.e. They do not protect selected journalist or others of whom they disapprove.

The main thing I see when I'm covering events/a story is self described anarchists engaging in violent hate filled rhetoric intended to intimidate others--a fool's methodology. The most imminent violence/threats I've encountered comes from the homeless.

Most journalists will try to refrain from taking sides--but the gloves come off when the journalist is personally attacked/assaulted and that's to be expected.
Posted by pinbalwyz on May 8, 2012 at 7:36 PM · Report this
Those interested can see/hear some of the krap/confrontations reporters/photojournalists have to cope with at:
It's not all fight club reporting, but it's bad enough that security demands company and being wired like a Christmas tress when wearing a press badge. It seems reporters don't have any friends...or at least shouldn't have, if they're any good. And the good ones don't WANT any when they're covering a story.
Posted by pinbalwyz on May 8, 2012 at 7:41 PM · Report this
My experience as an investigative reporter in Seattle (P-I, 1969-1976) and elsewhere suggests to me that the fundamental issue here is for reporters and editors and newspapers to protect all of their work product from any intrusions that may have a chilling effect on their ability to gather and publish news, especially as regards protection of sources. If you attempt to deal with this on a case by case basis, you may end up opening a door you never can close again. "You let us see this--why can't we see that?"
Posted by Walter Wright on May 14, 2012 at 11:10 PM · Report this

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