SPLC advises journalists covering anti-war protest

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Student Press Law Center is advising college journalists who plan to cover the scheduled anti-war protest to be held in Washington, D.C., this Saturday, March 15, to take several precautionary steps to avoid being arrested or detained as were several student reporters and photographers attempting to cover the World Bank/International Monetary Fund meetings in D.C. last September.

Although the SPLC and other media groups have protested District of Columbia police department’s treatment of journalists at that event, the Center offers some advice for college student media members planning to cover the protest that could help them avoid police problems. The SPLC recommends:

1) Bring credentials. Every student journalist covering the event should have something that clearly identifies him or her as a member of the press. D.C. police have said that they recognize official media credentials issued by any government law enforcement agency. Thus a personalized credential from your local, county or state police department may be the best identification. If that isn’t available or cannot be obtained in time for the event, an official credential document identifying the journalist by name and photo as a member of their publication staff may be the next best alternative.

2) Avoid the appearance of being a participant in the protests. Wearing insignia, carrying signs or joining in chants with protest participants (or counter-protesters) increases the likelihood that a journalist will be perceived as there for a purpose other than to collect information and cover the news. Editors should ensure that they know which of their staff members are there to cover the events so that if trouble should arise, they can immediately identify each staff member as a journalist and not a protester.

3) Bring a cell phone and at least $50 cash. If detained or threatened with arrest, the ability to contact outside help quickly can be important. Have a means for contacting your editor, adviser or an attorney if necessary. It might be wise to make a plan for all reporters and photographers on the scene to check in periodically with an editor or another newspaper staff member outside of the protest area who will be available during the protest. Although you won’t want to pay any “post and forfeit” fee unless you are willing to admit to the offense you’ve been accused of (see point 5 below), if there comes a point where you choose to pay for your release, you’ll need the cash to do so. But be forewarned that despite police pledges, those who “post and forfeit” are not necessarily released any sooner than those who choose to contest the charges against them.

4) Obey all police orders.

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