When is it justifiable to go out and get yourself arrested during the course of gathering news? That is the question that comes to my mind after reading about the plight of TV Photog Cliff Erwin and Reporter Sara Sheffield.
The two were arrested just after a Live report for failing to heed the instructions of the Highway Patrol who told them to move from the spot where they were covering a building collapse.
According to other media reports they had been covering the collapse since before the sun came up and had moved back several times as police adjusted the yellow tape.
Today I recieved an email reply from someone close to the situation stating that they "were plenty far away. Not to mention the fact there were several other
journalists in the same location who were not arrested or even asked to move."
The email was brief but continued to say that Erwin and Sheffield "were in the spot local police directed (them) to earlier that morning. It’s crazy!"
Yes, that is crazy! If the public can be there so can the media. Period! It's a statement worth repeating. Hell, make it into a T-shirt and I'll wear it. If it's OK for Joe Six-Pack to walk around the damaged building or at the yellow tape then it's OK for the viewers watching my newschannel to be there through my lens as well.
But too many times an overzealous Barney gets all out of sorts about protecting the victims or protecting my safety or protecting his job and our big fancy cameras seem to set off their radars.
It seems lately to be an almost daily occurance in our jobs for someone to not want us around, to ask us to leave or to threaten our very freedom.
SO, back to my question. When is it OK to get arrested? When does it help? When does it hurt?
Certainly Sara and Cliff got their job done and made air. That is the most important factor to consider. My bosses wouldn't like it too much if they had to fill a 2 minute black hole at the last minute because I wouldn't move 50 (or however far)feet to make a point about the first ammendment or public access. It's very important to make air.
But this crew that was arrested were nearing the end of a full shift. They stood up for what was right, made their Live Shot and were still given NO CONSIDERATION from the authorities. I think in their situation they did the right thing. They took the bullet (so to speak) and hopefully that'll get the local and state authorities to take a closer look at their media relations.
The problem is that, starting with the altercation, most of these situaions create more problems than they solve on both sides. The cops spend time dealing with a sidebar problem, the media get behind on a deadline, legal problems and expenses are created for those involved, and animosity can develop between the cops and the media.
And heck, all we want is a decent place to take a picture from!
Take a swing around the web and see who's saying what about this incident...
Bluedog Photog Blog Article
Lost Remote Article
Lost Remote Artice
THE LIVE SHOT
Sedalia Democrat Article
Pictures of the Arrest