MNSPJ reminds general public and reporters of their right to document public events

Recently, a Star Tribune reporter received death threats after tweeting photos — while on the job — of the protests that arose in the wake of George Floyd’s death. This reporter’s personal phone number and home address were posted online, presenting a serious threat to his safety and that of his family. Another photographer was cornered while covering protests and had his camera thrown into a fire.

The board of the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists stands with our colleagues and would like to remind the general public of the rights of journalists and citizens to document public events.

Reporters as well as the general public are legally allowed to photograph and record people in public areas such as a public street or sidewalk where they have no reasonable expectation of privacy. It’s why we are all allowed to be photographed or recorded by surveillance cameras, police dash and body cams and other people with recording devices.  According to the Student Press Law Center, in the United States (unlike some other countries) there is no “right not to be photographed” in a space that is visible to the public. The law not only protects professional journalists but also private citizens who use their cell phones or other recording devices to record events in public spaces such as the video that highlighted the detainment of George Floyd. 

Dependent on the guidelines of individual media organizations, news photographs are generally not edited to alter or obscure the identities of subjects in a dedication to accuracy. 

Journalists have been illegally detained in the past and have had their cameras confiscated by police. It is important that as a community, we do not backtrack on any progress to protect the freedom of not only the press but the general public to collect and disseminate the news in its entirety without censorship. It is also important to remember that the First Amendment was drafted to protect the public’s right to receive information by guaranteeing freedom of the press. It is also the same constitutional protection that grants “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

MN-SPJ encourages reporters and the general public to refer to SPJ’s updated Journalist’s Toolbox on covering protests and civil unrest for guidance.