Concerns over videotaping/photographying protests at political events

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by firecracker, Sep 16, 2006.

  1. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Since I often see threads about us photographers dealing with police and authorities in general, I think it would be appropriate to discuss further more in the Ethics and Philosophy forum. Those who are planning to cover the events like protest, might want to take a look at this:

    http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/09/15/1342254

    It's about a young man named "Josh Wolf, freelance journalist and video blogger who was jailed for refusing to give authorities footage of a 2005 protest in San Francisco. He spent 30 days behind bars. He is the first blogger to be targeted by federal authorities for not cooperating with a grand jury."

    Here is an example of the problems that we could run into with our cameras when we happen to become the witnesses of the scenes:

    JOSH WOLF: Basically, I had been shooting protests for both my blog, other journalist sources such as Indymedia, for about two or three years now. And I went out one day to shoot an anti-G8 protest that was going on in the city of San Francisco.

    AMY GOODMAN: The G8 meeting was where?

    JOSH WOLF: The G8 was going on in Gleneagles, Scotland at the time. It was last year. And that's when the eight largest countries plan out various talks about how they’re going to do economic policies and those sorts of things. And so, there was a protest in solidarity with those who were protesting in Scotland at the time. And it just seemed like any other protest at first. I came out. I shot it.

    During this protest, there was some sort of an altercation with a police officer, and the officer didn’t receive some significant injuries.

    AMY GOODMAN: He did receive?

    JOSH WOLF: He did. Quite significant injuries. I believe there was a fractured skull. I don't know. I wasn't anywhere near that incident occurring. But this is what the reports have bared out. I edited down the video that I shot that night. I had a contact at one of the local news stations and was going to provide some of the footage of this exorbitant police behavior that just didn't seem appropriate, to be honest, to that station to kind of get the story out there. And the next thing I know, the FBI is knocking at my door wanting to talk to me. I basically kind of dodged a lot of their questions.

    AMY GOODMAN: Did you let them in?

    JOSH WOLF: I didn't let them in. But what happened was the doorbell rang. I answered, and the guy in sort of like a Hawaii shirt and Bermuda shirts with a collapsible folder, filing folder-type thing, was at the door. And my first thought is like it was a reporter, maybe the LA Times, somewhere from Miami. He’s got this sort of tropical gig going on. And so, I’m like, “Oh, yeah.” He's like, “Can I talk to you for a while?” “Yeah, sure. What's up?” And then flashes the FBI badge, just like in the movies. And then, about the same time, another FBI agent comes around, and then two SFPD investigators are there.

    AMY GOODMAN: San Francisco Police.

    JOSH WOLF: San Francisco Police Department investigators.

    AMY GOODMAN: At your door.


    And there's more in the article to read if you are interested.

    If anyone finds this topic to be in the Lounge forum, please report and remove it there. Thanks.
     
  2. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    This will end up in the soapbox before very long.

    It's very complicated, and although some will say it's just overreactions by government since 9/11 and Bush, the fact is, that journalists and law enforcement have had these types of run ins for a long time.

    A couple of points:

    Does having a blog, and a camera, make you a "journalist".

    As a witness to a crime, do you have the right to withhold evidence.

    Does a journalist have the right to withhold or protect sources when those sources are witnesses to crimes.

    Are some of our freedoms more important than laws.

    I think on some of these question, "journalists" really need to pick their battles, and some are not worth the fight, others definately are, and the entire media should back them up.

    I'm sure this thread will evolve into a bashfest about the current state of affairs but I remind you these "questions" have been going on for a long time before the current overreactions.


    Michael
     
  3. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    I would bet that we are hearing only one side of the story. Another neo-political thread in its infancy.

    Does anyone out there have an objective account of this event?
     
  4. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    It would have been a better story if Dog nabbed him.
     
  5. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Thats where it should have started..

    Dave
     
  6. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    My point of starting this thread was/is about the discussion of the problems/risk that you may run into, not about the current trend(s) of the politics.

    This young man is a videographer/video-editor/blogger, etc who has been present in the politcal rallies to document something, according to the article/videostream. I'm aware of the uncertain parts of the story, but that's the part that's left for us to think, isnt it?

    My question is, do you give up our own beliefs and give in to the authorities? Or do you expect to get lock up in jail for a unknown length of time? Let me elaborate more: Has anyone here had similar experiences? If they did, how did you act and react? How did you solve and/or manage to get through?
     
  7. MikeSeb

    MikeSeb Member

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    The only take-home point I draw from this account--recognizing that we don't have all the facts by a long shot--is that if you are witness to a crime--the fracturing of someone's skull--you might be compelled to tell/show what you know to the authorities; your evidence can be subpoenaed if you don't want to give it.

    This sounds like it has less to do with political protest than it does with assault and battery.
     
  8. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Another point I probably have bring up since I started this thread, is that when you hand over your videotapes or exposed films, you have to responsible for the content. Whatever is on your tapes or film rolls, will be used by whoever sees it.

    Knowing the fact that some (or many) authorities have practiced snatching certain activists in the past using these visual evidences (not only in the U.S., but pretty much everywhere), I think there's a need to protect what we have shot with or without the aims towards our subjects.

    Being a witness to a crime scene and having a potential evidence source is one thing, which we are all responsible dealing adequately, but giving away something that contains far more than that, or in this case doesn't contain any evidence at all, seems to be a hard choice for us.
     
  9. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Once again, you're only hearing one side of the story and taking that for granted. If you take the stance that the "authorities" are always after you, then you will surely do something to provoke them or attract attention to yourself. How many thousands of photographers get by without any trouble compared to the small number that always seem to get themselves in trouble?
     
  10. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Michael,

    All your points are well taken. I would add a couple more.

    This is not a soapbox issue. It's a free press issue -- and if you take pictures in public, you run the risk of being identified with photographers working for a free press.

    A lot depends on the crime. Let's take a motorcycle rally where the riders are protesting against having to wear helmets, and ride without. Yes, it's a crime -- but it's not one I'm going to help prosecute. A murder or serious assault is another matter.

    As you say, there are no clear, black-and-white (still less digital) answers, but if photographers are regularly used as tools of the authorities, then a lot of people are going to see photographers as enemies, instruments of authority and therefore targets, not as potential friends or helpers -- or even as neutral observers.

    I have photographed a number of protests and demonstrations over the decades, from Govan shipyards through Save the Whale to Tibetan nationalist, and as by definition protests tend to be against something, one has to be careful that those it is against are not given carte blanche.

    Does anyone, for example, think that the Chinese authorities should be allowed to bang up journalists who point out the shortcomings in their regime?

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  11. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    I've taken a few pictures at accident scenes. Invariably, the police will ask what I'm doing. Their tone runs from "go ahead, let us know if any turn out well" to "we need your name and address and if you get too close, you will be cited for interfering with an accident investigation." A lot depends on the activity, type of accident or crime, officer's mood and the nature of a crime.

    As photographers, we are able, by law, to shoot in public places. Our film and it's content is our property. It seems to me we have an obligation to be responsible citizens, as well as responsible photographers. If any of our shots are germane in an investigation, trial or inquiry , why would we not wish to cooperate in a legal situation? tim
     
  12. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Very well said Tim.
     
  13. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    As usual I'll refer people to PhotoPermit.Org which is dedicated to such issues.

    This particular case leaves me feeling rather conflicted, since Josh is demanding not protection for his sources, not avoidance of prior restraint of publication, not freedom of association or avoidance of undue search and seizure, not the fifth amendment exclusion, but rather some unclear rights that he claims have the power to trump subpeona (while the judges disagree, but they have commited some public-policy gaffes by not disclosing their opinions on the case). I'm not at all really sure he's in the right in this case -- which leaves me feeling even MORE conflicted, since we share a lot of personal friends.