I was disturbed by a story today covering reporter Tim Funk’s arrest in the Raleigh, North Carolina Capitol Building last June 10. As English Pages editor of Kabulpress.org, I am very familiar with illegal treatment of journalists. I work with a dozen journalists from Afghanistan who have been threatened, beaten, given death sentences for their writings, and jailed for months. Several were murdered because of their professional work. All of these actions are forbidden by statutes and the Afghan constitution, yet they occur with terrible regularity. Tim’s arrest is a warning that similar things could happen here.
In the past few days, several journalists were killed in Egypt, and today’s Observer also detailed threats from officials against two women McClatchy reporters there.
This is a serious issue, and while, perhaps, journalists and publishers in the US feel safer than their counterparts in Afghanistan and Egypt, the problem, even in North Carolina, may be more severe than it appears in your story. Also, the remedy you seek may be woefully insufficient.
For example, noted journalist, Amy Goodman, editor of Democracy Now, and several of her reporting team were arrested at the 2008 RNC convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul. They were roughly handled, slightly injured, and jailed for many hours with no outside contact allowed. A judge dismissed all charges.
Goodman and her colleagues sued the local authorities, won the case, and were awarded $100,000 in damages. The judge ordered the police departments to institute a training course to instruct officers in first amendment rights, and how to legally treat journalists during demonstrations.
Perhaps Tim and The Observer should proceed in the same way.
It’s amazing that your attorney, Wade Smith said only, "It seemed to me that they cast a net and caught someone they shouldn’t have. It may be that they just weren’t thinking about it." Nice, polite thought, but I watched the video several times, and Funk’s arrest was personally conducted by Police Chief Jeff Weaver, who was fully informed of Funk’s occupation, and blatantly ignored it in a peaceful, non-threatening situation.
Wade’s second quote "(he) hopes in the future that they will realize a journalist has a very important role to play," sounds like kindergarten teacher sending a child to a corner for quiet time. If the Chief of Police acts like an ignorant rookie cop, he should be soundly disciplined or replaced. To ensure public trust, excessive and illegal police action must be called out and corrected.
You say you and the NCPA "stand ready to meet" with the legislature police. That’s a good step, but sounds mighty weak response to the actions of people like Police Chief Weaver. I hope that you, Tim, and the Observer will take the same steps that Amy Goodman did to protect the First Amendment, and file a suit to protect you and all other NC journalists. You must do more than write an article an "stand ready to meet." Those solutions did not go very far in Minneapolis, as the judge there plainly agreed, with his financial penalty and instructional orders.