Monday Media – Should reporters hand images over to police?

Reporters and police have a symbiotic relationship, in many ways.

The media needs the police to provide crime news that is the staple of many news organisations (who adopt the mantra ‘if it bleeds, it leads…’)

But the media also provides police with the publicity investigators need to elicit information from the public.

As a former news director, I have to say that sometimes that relationship is unhealthy. Crime reporters are occasionally too close to their sources – and are too willing (and even eager) to ‘massage’ the message from their police counterparts.

Every news organisation is aware of the risk – and tries to keep the relationship ‘at arms length’.

But on some occasions, that is harder than it is at others.

As an example, media outlets who covered the insurrection at the US Capitol in Washington are almost certainly going to be asked to supply their footage and images to the FBI and other investigators.

Should they do so? Some will argue that if it helps identify the rioters – and especially those involved in the death of a police officer – they should.

And yet members of the media are already targets in demonstrations, protests, and riots. If protesters believe their details will be passed on to the police, then that anger is likely to spiral into violence.

I mean, it’s not as if it isn’t already happening.

“A camera cable was knotted into a noose and hung over a tree branch. The words “Murder the Media” were scratched into a door inside the Capitol. Thousands of dollars in equipment labeled “Associated Press” was stomped on and destroyed. A @gopro video posted by Associated Press photographer Julio Cortez shows his colleague John Minchillo being attacked.”

The expected request is, as you can imagine, sparking vigorous debate.

Typical is the discussion in an Australian-based journalism discussion forum on Facebook, (Supporting Journalism Students and Graduates.)

One participant says “No. Journalists and photo-journalists are already on the firing-line, without been seen as an extension of law enforcement. … we need our independence more than ever, even if it means defying directives to handover our raw-images and footage. Journalists and law enforcement have two very different jobs …”

That participant is supported by another, who says “The FBI and others have their own resources for identifying their targets. They’ve been doing it for decades against the Democrats, minorities, and so on. Now they have to come for miscreants from the right, for whom they have inherent sympathies, even discrete support, as the catastrophic failure to prevent the invasion of the Capitol Building proves. If that had been a BLM or AntiFa protest, they’d still be pressure cleaning the blood off the steps and out of the building. Journalists have their roles, and it doesn’t include doing the Surveillance State’s work for them. “

But an opposing view suggests THIS case is different … “This was not a protest; it was the first violent step in a (hopefully) failed revolution. These rioters were not exercising their First Amendment rights. They do not respect the rights of journalists, especially not journalists’ rights to life or liberty … if these revolutionaries succeed, the only ‘journalists’ left will be working for OANN, RT, Breitbart, and Gateway Pundit.”

I admit – I am conflicted.

For a more detailed discussion, check out The Poynter Institute – then drop back here, and join the debate. I’d love to hear from you.

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