Citizen Journalists Behind Bars: Why Protection Lags

With the recent protests and uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri, a heated conflict arose between protesters and police officers. In 2012, a similar uproar brewed between protesters and authorities during the events of Occupy Wall Street. Both of these incidents led to journalists being arrested while on the job and stripped of their First Amendment rights.

In 2013, the United States was ranked #32 for the number of arrests of journalists on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.

Citizen journalists face an even tougher challenge. In the United States, there is currently no legislation that allows bloggers or citizen journos to protect their sources. But there is proof that the public and professional journalists are interested in their work.  According to a survey from the Middleberg Communications and the Society for New Communications Research, 66 percent of journalists use blogs to assist in their reporting. This means blogs play an important role in the newsgathering process.

The U.S. has dealt with several cases of bloggers trying to protect their sources. For example, on August 1, 2006, a federal district judge sent a freelance video journalist and blogger to prison. His name was Josh Wolf and he was a recent college graduate who did not work for a professional media organization at the time. Wolf had captured video footage of an anti-capitalist protest in California and posted portions of the video onto his blog.

As part of an investigation into charges against protesters whose identities were unknown, federal prosecutors subpoenaed Wolf to testify before a grand jury and to hand over the unpublished portions of his video. Wolf refused to comply and argued that the First Amendment gives journalists protection. However, the judge disagreed and Wolf spent 226 days behind bars.

Unfortunately, citizen journalists must operate without protection for them or their sources, for now. But there are some extra steps you can take while out in the field. The Huffington Post wrote an article about different tools that citizen journalists can take advantage of to help protect themselves. Some of these included:

1. I’m Getting Arrested– This allows users to broadcast a message if they are getting arrested.

2. Storymaker– This is an app that allows journalists to produce and publish professional-grade news with their Android phone as safely and securely as possible.

3. Informacam– This app creates a snapshot of the environment in which an image or video was captured to answer the questions regarding “who,” “where”, “when”, “how”, and “why” of an incident. It then encrypts and sends the files to a trusted source.

4. Panic Button– This was developed by Amnesty International and it turns your smartphone into a secret alarm for when you’re in trouble. Some features include emergency SMS, a location map, rapid and discrete alerts, and data protection.

5. The UDHR Universal Declaration of Human Rights app provides important human rights information in multiple languages and allows users to share articles via e-email, text message, and social media.


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