Thanks to The Nation for this interview with First Amendment attorney Jonathan Peters. A total of 38 reporters have been arrested at Occupy protests across the country. While most have had their charges dropped, these actions have raised legitimate concerns about whether reporters are being granted their First Amendment rights.
As Peters notes, most of the arrests were for trespass or disorderly conduct. He goes on to say that the First Amendment doesn’t provide cover for breaking the law, and even with press credentials, reporters are required to comply with legitimate orders from the police.
The question for me – not just for reporters but for citizens – is what constitutes a “legitimate” order. Some of the video from Occupy marches in New York City show troubling situations where police officers were either issuing contradictory orders, or they were intentionally encouraging people to do things such as move onto a roadway, for which they were immediately arrested.
An issue not addressed in the interview is how courts view the rights accorded to journalists and to bloggers and citizen journalists which was raised by this blog earlier. As The Nation article confirms, there is a difference between having rights in theory and in practice. Even more ambiguous is whether reporters can expect to prevail in court if they try to sue for damages.