Amy Goodman, a reporter for Democracy Now!, was arrested facing riot charges for her coverage of the North Dakota pipeline protests.
This underground pipeline will transfer crude oil from Chicago to North Dakota, across four states. Many people are worried about safety (particularly water safety), and how the land will be effected. Indigenous land rights are also an issue.
US judge, John Grinsteiner, rejected the charges against Goodman, which her lawyers argued went against the First Amendment’s freedom of the press.
However, Ladd Erikson, prosecutor representing Morton County, doesn’t see Goodman as a journalist.
“Is everybody that’s putting out a YouTube video from down there a journalist down there, too?,” Erikson questioned.
Although Erikson is biased, he asked a good question. This is a question that will be asked many times in the coming years: what is a journalist? Is it someone who works for a legitimate news publication? What is a legitimate news publication?
If we are going to give the press specials rights, then we need to know what a journalist is. The internet has made this definition very complicated. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are blurring. Freedom of speech is already complicated enough, frequently facing off with hate speech.
Shailene Woodley, an actress best known for the Divergent series, was also arrested while engaging with the protests. Is she a journalist? She probably has more followers then many journalists.
The laws protecting and restricting journalists need to be more specific considering everyone can post their version of events nowadays.
However, the controversy isn’t just limited to journalists. Several documentary filmmakers have also been arrested for filming the protests. Their footage and equipment was taken from them. Is an independant documentary filmmaker a journalist? If a documentary is being produced by a news publication, is the filmmaker a journalist?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I don’t think any of these people should be arrested for reporting, posting, or documenting the protests. As for trespassing and ‘rioting’, official definitions seem a bit blurry for those as well.
Thanks for reading. Please comment, like, and follow. I would love to hear other opinions on the issue.