Journalists Don’t Have Any Special Rights – Nor Should They

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Varied representatives of the media suffer from a misapprehension – that they have some special set of rights not available to the rest of us. True, in the US, there actually are some such rights, shield laws and the like, but that’s not the point being made here. Rather, about the right to stand around in the street, to observe, to not have to move on when asked by the police and all that.

Yes, yes, speaking truth to power and all that. Even, that many a time people will grant special access to those who appear to be writing things down. But as far as the law is concerned – and definitely as far as the law ought to be – journalists are just we citizenry writing stuff down and journalists enjoy, and should enjoy, the same rights we citizenry do.

Journalists covering the protests and riots that have erupted in US cities after the killing of George Floyd have reported being shot at, teargassed and arrested, as well as being intimidated by crowds.

More than 50 incidents of violence and harassment against media workers were reported on social media and in news outlets on Friday and Saturday, according to a tally the Guardian collated.

They included the blinding of Linda Tirado, a freelance photojournalist and activist who has contributed to the Guardian, who was hit in the eye with a nonlethal round while covering unrest in Minneapolis; the arrest of the HuffPost US reporter Chris Mathias during protests in New York; and the shooting of the Swedish foreign correspondent Nina Svanberg, who was struck in the leg by several rubber bullets on Friday night.

I don’t wish a blinding upon anyone, not even a freelance for the Guardian. But all sorts of people are being shot at, gassed, and it’s not just the police doing the attacking either. And journalists are not some special caste – as with say medical facilities behind the frontline of a battlefield – with privileges.

As an analogy the difference between US and UK police. Over there they really are special. The law is different as we’re about to find out in the trial of the cop the rioting is over. What would be an open and shut case of manslaughter (the man died under restraint, whatever else happened) won’t be that simple over there for cops aren’t judged by the same set of laws. Over here – OK, perhaps more in theory that actuality but still – the police don’t have any superpowers. Even that ability to arrest is one held by any and every citizen. As Bobby Peel pointed out, the police simply are the citizenry.

So it is and should be with journalists. They – if you like, as I can be described as one, we – are not a special caste with privileges. It’s even possible to agree that journalism is important, the speaking truth to power but and all that if you like, but we’re still not special in law.

Tear gas and rubber bullets are flying around? No one has any duty to make sure journos aren’t discomfited by that simply because there’s nothing, and righteously so, about journalists.

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NDReader
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NDReader

In the UK, where rubber bullets are used (Northern Ireland), they are meant to be aimed at a specific target. In the US are they just fired into the crowd?

John B
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John B

A ‘baton round’ is meant for non-lethal crowd dispersal: aimed downward towards the ground under the crowd, they are intended to ricochet around striking the lower legs of those in the crowd, even those not at the front – like being kicked in the shins.

Low velocity but higher mass than a bullet, aimed at a single target a round is likely to cause serious injury or death particularly if it strikes head or torso.

Of course how they should be used is not always how they are used.

Boganboy
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Boganboy

One does wonder whether those claiming special privileges for journos would extend them to the average bloke taking a picture with his mobile phone. Especially if these pictures happen to support something they disagree with.

Mr Womby
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Mr Womby

And how are the police supposed to distinguish between a reporter and the hundreds of other people stampeding around? I don’t suppose they still all wear fedoras with a little ticket in the hatband saying “Press”.

John B
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John B

Wearing a hi-viz vest with PRESS or MEDIA or TV in enormous letters front and back? As they do in war zones, although the vest is usually a non-military colour like blue and bullet-proof.

Mr Womby
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Mr Womby

True enough, but I wonder how many of those complaining were of the “freelance photojournalist and activist” variety who presumably don’t get to wear one.

jgh
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jgh

When people like Kate Adie got shot at with real life bullets on real life battefields in real life wars, they didn’t complain, they just got on with their job.

Swannypol
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Swannypol

Some classification of journalist in the UK counts as “key worker” under the lockdown law and thus gets special privileges including sensing kids to school.

Esteban
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Esteban

Journos & actors are quite amusing in their belief that they are so, so special. Don’t think there’s any other jobs where people plan huge, splashy parties to hand out awards to each other and gush about how brave and noble they are – “next year I’ll give you the award”.

Phoenix44
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Phoenix44

You are kidding? Every profession has it, from insurance to treasury to law to banking to advertising to restaurants. The Extel survey for stock analysts used to be a festival of all sorts of crazy stuff.

And these days there’s plenty of virtue-signalling probably even in the Best Arms Dealer Awards ceremonies.

Esteban
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Esteban

Yes, but the “Columbus Realtor of the Year” doesn’t get weepy and explain how he’s saving the world, and by the way, we’re all so brave.

Spike
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Spike

The First Amendment solely recognizes freedom from gov’t response based on the content of expressions. The press has other “rights” such as being let into the White House press briefing, given that you can’t let everyone in who might like to be there. It has no right to communicate effectively, or enter a dangerous zone and not be in danger.

thefat tomato
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thefat tomato

Well let us hope Forbes does not see this admission of humility. I do not think anybody else in the media shares this sentiment with you.

ANNRQ
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ANNRQ

Bad news about her eye; however, Can you imagine Robert Capa making this sort of complaint? You go to report on a riot, you take the risk of getting caught up in it.

Leo Savantt
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Leo Savantt

In today’s world of ubiquitous mobile phone cameras and social media who isn’t a potential journalist? IF MSM journalists claim special privileges they will, either deliberately or more charitably as a by product, deny those rights for the rest of us. That is not to be welcomed.

Bloke in North Dorset
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Bloke in North Dorset

This isn’t pleading for special treatment for journalists, it’s special pleading for lefty, activist, activist MSM journalists.

When Andy Ngo was reporting on and being attacked by Antifa they were at best silent, but in many cases hostile towards him @nd even supportive of Antifa. He warned that they were organising across the country and were looking for an excuse like this.

Charles
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Charles

Journalists do not deserve special rights but journalism does. Journalism is the eyes and ears of the people. Not everyone can be present in person to see important events – quite apart from the crowding, people have other essential things to do in their lives and the importance of events may only be evident in retrospect. Just as we have a division of labour in other areas of society, so does journalism inform us all.

Without effective journalism to inform us, we can be deceived into acting in the interests of small groups rather than in our own.