SEJ Objects To Prosecution of Journalists Covering Pipeline Protests

October 26, 2016

The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) has written law enforcement officials at the state and federal levels, objecting to prosecution of journalists who have been covering protests against the Dakota Access Pipe Line and other pipelines.

Even though North Dakota District Judge John W. Grinsteiner threw out "rioting" charges against prize-winning journalist Amy Goodman October 17, 2016, charges still loom over other journalists.

Documentary filmmaker Deia Schlosberg will appear in court November 7 for a preliminary hearing on three felony conspiracy charges that could bring a 45-year prison sentence. She was arrested near Walhalla, North Dakota, by county police October 11 after filming demonstrators shutting down a pipeline that carried crude from Canadian oil sands.

Another filmmaker, Lindsey Grayzel, was arrested and jailed October 11 in Skagit County, Washington, in a similar incident. The incident was one of at least five coordinated by the group Climate Direct Action that day — in which teams broke into valve stations and manually shut valves in pipelines they said carried all the tar-sands crude coming into the U.S. from Canada. Arrests occurred in Washington, Montana, Minnesota, and North Dakota.

The filmmakers, who say they were documenting, not participating in, the actions, had their equipment and footage confiscated by sheriffs.

"I think it’s essential for journalists and filmmakers to go where the mainstream media is not," Schlosberg said in a Facebook post. She produced "How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change" with Josh Fox (producer of "Gasland").

SEJ President Bobby Magill said in an October 19 letter to law enforcement officials: "it is the job of journalists to cover these events. ... To arrest them because they’re reporting on the protests is a blatant act of intimidation. If left unchallenged, such actions will have a chilling effect on the ability of news organizations of all types to report on newsworthy events, and deprive the American public of its right to know about them."

On October 25, a Newfoundland court ordered the arrest of journalist Justin Brake on trespassing charges, after he covered indigenous protestors on the site of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, according to the independent news site Ricochet.

The text of SEJ's letter to law enforcement officials, sent October 19, 2016, is here.

The prosecutor who charged Amy Goodman, Ladd Erickson of McLean County, responded to SEJ's letter via email, saying in part "Because this is still an open investigation I have been precluded by our rules from responding to many things in media reports."

Erickson attached an affidavit he had submitted to the court. He added: "you may surmise from this affidavit that premises and conclusions in your letter aren’t grounded in the evidence from this incident that we are making decisions from." The judge, of course, disagreed. Erickson has so far declined to rule out seeking other charges against Goodman.

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