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Ferguson Offers Stark Lessons On Press and Citizen Freedoms

PHOTO: Experts say the recent protests in Ferguson highlight the need for better understanding that the right to record events in public extends to both working journalists and everyday citizens. Photo credit: Alvimann/Morguefile.
PHOTO: Experts say the recent protests in Ferguson highlight the need for better understanding that the right to record events in public extends to both working journalists and everyday citizens. Photo credit: Alvimann/Morguefile.
August 18, 2014

FERGUSON, Mo. - Tensions continue to run high in Ferguson following last week's clashes in which protestors and journalists were assaulted, arrested, and tear-gassed. Experts caution what happened in Ferguson could happen anywhere.

David Cullier is the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, and he says in cities across the nation every day, journalists are prevented from doing their job because of police who don't understand or don't uphold the freedom of the press.

"This really isn't about the press versus the police," says Cullier. "This is the citizenry versus the police, and we all need to remember that."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri has filed a lawsuit to challenge the police policy of demanding and ordering members of the media and public to stop recording the police acting in their official duty on public streets and sidewalks, and to declare the police policy unconstitutional. The Ferguson protests began in reaction to the police shooting of unarmed teenager named Michael Brown.

Cullier says it's not just reporters and camera crews who face this sort of harassment, now that almost every person carries a recording device of some sort.

"That person is likely or possibly going to be equally accosted and arrested by police, their phone taken away, told to delete their images," says Cullier. "The difference is most citizens don't realize they have a right to record events in public."

As part of the mission to promote the free flow of information, Cullier says his organization has provided training for law enforcement, journalists and citizens in a half dozen communities on the rights and responsibilities for anyone to photograph or take video in public, and has offered to hold such a training in Ferguson.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO