Thursday, September 26, 2013

Reporting on Limitations on the Freedom of Speech

Last spring, eporters in Chicagoland have been informed by police that “You (sic) first amendment rights can be terminated if you create a scene…Your first amendment rights have limitations.”

The Media covering the fatal  shooting of a six year old at Mount Sinai Hospital on the west side of Chicago.  WGN-TV reporter Dan Ponce and photographer Donte Williams were taken in handcuffs when they refused to move further away from the hospital for their coverage. 

The reporters were standing on the median sidewalk  halfway across the street from  Mount Sinai Hospital as they were doing their reporting.  The officer yelled at them to move further away and the journalistics refused to comply as they did their jobs.  It should be noted that the area was not a crime scene.  The officer exclaimed:  “F*** news affairs, I don’t care about news affairs. Forget news affairs.”.

According to the police, the reporters tried to enter the hospital and were removed at the request of hospital security, but their guards declined to press charges and the individuals were released.  However, the police maintain that the reporters very presence around grieving family members created a scene.   The official police statement proclaimed: Our members were attempting to protect and respect both the grieving family members of the child, and the memory of the child herself during a very stressful time for all parties involved.

While it might be the case that the aforementioned journalists pressed the edge within the hospital in pursuit of the story (which they deny),  the offending officer's ejaculations paired with the official police statement reveal a rationale that the authorities think it is OK to limit the First Amendment when they want.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Recently, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) proposed an amendment to the Reporter Shield bill in the Senate Judiciary committee which limits coverage to journalists whom she describes as:  “real reporters.” Feinstein was worried that protections might apply to: “people who aren’t really reporters at all, who have no professional qualifications.” Feinstein's definition of a real reporter is “a salaried agent” of a media company such as a newspaper, broadcast news station, news website or another type of news service. Of course, powers authorizing "real reporter" licensure can sway coverage.

Curious that Congress thinks that it can regulate Free Speech, especially considering that the First Amendment starts with the phrase: "Congress shall make no law…"  But considering the age when Supreme Court majority opinions on Obamacare contort arguments to make it a tax to be constitutional, maybe a clarifyng amendment could be added to impose a tax for "real reporter" licenses presumably passing SCOTUS muster.

The First Amendment is the fundamental freedom which prohibits the federal governement from encroaching on natural right to the freedom of speech.  The Freedom of Speech clause prohibits thegovernment from  banning speech because it does not agree with its message.  In Federalist Paper no. 10, James Madison pointed to the Freedom of Speech as being a vital element of a healthy Republic. 

Considering the sentiment to censor in Chicagoland and the Feinstein's "real reporter" amendment, one may question if the United States is civically healthy, much less a Republic. 

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