The Society of Environmental Journalists has written Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, condemning "in the strongest terms" the treatment of two Toledo Blade journalists March 28 by military police outside a Lima, Ohio, tank plant. The journalists were on public property when they were detained by military police. Photographer Jetta Fraser's camera was confiscated, even though she was taking pictures of what was in plain public view.
In a letter sent April 9, 2014, signed by SEJ Executive Director Beth Parke and SEJ WatchDog Project Director Joseph A. Davis, SEJ urged Hagel to apologize to the Blade and direct military employees not to let such illegal actions happen again.
The SEJ letter stated: "SEJ members around the country have in recent years expressed concerns that heightened security patrols around a variety of industrial facilities have threatened the ability of journalists to photograph legitimate news subjects such as dangerous chemical facilities located near populated communities."
- The full text of SEJ's April 9, 2014, letter to Hagel can be found here.
- New details emerge of MP's sexual threats against photog.
Military police violated the law and the Constitution March 28, 2014, when they detained two Toledo Blade journalists outside a tank plant, confiscated cameras, and deleted photos. The journalists had a legal right to their activities, because they were on public land and photographing things in plain public view. Now the Blade is suing the government.
Environmental reporters have often encountered similar situations in the past, as has been reported in the WatchDog. The right of access to public places, and the right to photograph from them, is well established by law. But since 9/11 journalists have been illegally detained and harassed by police while reporting on "critical infrastructure" like chemical plants, refineries, pipelines, or dams.
The Society of Environmental Journalists is preparing a response to the incident. Here are some links.
- "Blade Files Lawsuit Over Detention of Journalists," Toledo Blade, April 5, 2014, by Nolan Rosenkrans.
- "Military Police Detain Journalists from the Blade, Hold Equipment," Toledo Blade, March 29, 2014, by Nolan Rosenkrans.
- "Toledo Blade Sues Over Detention of Journalists at Tank Plant," New York Times, April 6, 2014, by Ravi Somaiya.
- "Toledo Blade Sues Chuck Hagel, Government Officials," Politico, April 7, 2014, by Hadas Gold.
And here are some previous WatchDog stories relating to access to public places for photojournalists.
- "Photog Claims Damages from CalTrans, CHP for Arrest, False Report," WatchDog of February 5, 2014.
- "Paragliding Photojournalist Arrested Near Kansas Feedlot," WatchDog of July 17, 2013.
- "Press Fotogs Sue DHS Over Laptop, Camera Seizures," WatchDog of July 13, 2011.
- "Journalists Detained at Texas Protest of Keystone XL Pipeline," WatchDog of October 17, 2012.
- "Artist Sues Local Cops Over Right To Photograph Power Lines," WatchDog of November 28, 2007.