Our Take: Free the press
Some people aren't happy about what goes on within the White House, but this week we have a beef with an event that occurred right outside the White House grounds, on public property. Last time we checked, student journalists were still entitled to First Amendment rights, but the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police didn't seem to agree last week when they made one of our photographers delete all the photos he had taken for an article.
One of the pictures included the officers at close range, and although we can understand why they might be a little upset about being in such a photograph, it doesn't excuse them from the illegal action they committed against our photographer. Our photographer identified himself as a member of the student press, but he was still forced to delete his photos, which were of the officers and the White House. If taking pictures of a public building on public property is so offensive or illegal, then why don't the Secret Service and White House security harass hundreds of tourists every day? A snapshot of the White House, or even of the officers, is, to the best of our knowledge, still allowed - so why was our photographer, who did not have a telephoto lens or other special equipment that might make him look suspicious, singled out?
Certainly he could not have been a security risk - the photos were taken by a standard digital camera and the photographer was not trespassing on any private property. According to the U.S. Constitution, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Photographers and journalists have the right to do their job on public property without prior authority from anyone, and anyone who forces them to do otherwise is breaking the law.
If you are asked by authorities to delete photos or hand over notes when you are on public property, do not comply immediately - identify yourself as a student journalist, ask for the officer's name and badge number if applicable, and ask for a full explanation of why they want your notes or photos.
The Student Press Law Center supports us on this issue, and helped an AU graduate student this summer when her notes were illegally confiscated by the Secret Service on a public sidewalk. She received a written apology from the Secret Service, and we expect no less from the authorities involved outside the White House.
The authorities should know the law and follow it, and we are not going to let this issue drop until they are held accountable.