CALIFORNIA — A California college student says a U.S.representative’s staff member threatened her with arrest and legal actionafter she posted a recorded interview with the representative’s presssecretary online.
Melissa Fazli, a student at California State University in Fullerton,Calif., posted a video of her conversation about healthcare legislation withJessica Baker, the press secretary for Rep. Gary Miller, to the user-generatediReport section of CNN.com.
In Fazli’s video, she inquires whether Miller has read all 1,018pages of the Patients’ Choice Act of 2009. In the interview, Baker saidMiller had not read the entire bill. Fazli was hoping to encourage otheriReporters to question their congressmen after some said recently they did nothave enough time to read the legislation.
When Fazli later called Miller’s office, she was directed to JohnRothrock, Miller’s chief of staff. According to Fazli, Rothrock said theyhad contacted U.S. Capitol Police and were planning to press criminal chargesagainst her for posting the recorded conversation online. Fazli said Rothrocktold her she recorded the conversation without permission and then posted it onthe Internet, which he said was illegal.
“I was in tears. I felt terrorized,” the 37-year-old said.
“I’m trying to get the kids to karate, and I have this guy tellingme I’m going to be prosecuted and tried to the fullest extent of the law.It was the longest 72 hours of my life, not knowing if you’re going to goto jail.”
According to Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press LawCenter, the law of the District of Columbia — where Baker’s calloriginated — allows either party to tape a conversation without the needfor consent from the other party. The law of California, where Fazli receivedthe call, requires the consent of all parties to the conversation only if thereis a reasonable expectation that the contents of the conversation are private,LoMonte said.
Fazli said there was no presumption of privacy in the phone call, notingBaker’s position as a spokesperson and that Fazli had requested anon-the-record interview. In the video, Fazli also references CNN’s iReportand asks Baker for the spelling of her name.
“I don’t think I broke the law,” Fazli said.”Obviously you can tell it’s not a private conversation.”
In the letter urging Rothrock to remedy the alleged threats toward Fazli,LoMonte said any unfounded threat, if true, would reflect negatively onMiller’s office.
“If it is accurate that you threatened a citizen with criminalprosecution for doing nothing more than broadcasting an on-the-record interviewwith the official press spokesperson for the congressman addressing a matter ofpublic concern, then you have engaged in a serious violation of Ms.Fazli’s civil rights,” LoMonte wrote.
Baker did not return a call seeking comment this week. Rothrock did notrespond to the SPLC’s letter from July 31; an attorney for the HouseOffice of General Counsel, who also did not return a call, said Rothrock hasleft the country on military reserve duty. Fazli said she was told not to callMiller’s offices again. She said she has not heard from any of his staff,police, or lawyers.
On the iReport site users can post original content, which is typically notedited or monitored by CNN. Fazli is currently in the top 20 percent ofiReporters based on her contributions, site traffic and popularity. She activelycovers current events, including recent tea parties protesting taxes and thedebate over gay marriage in California. Her videos are often chosen by iReporteditors to be featured on CNN’s Web site, though the interview with Bakerwas not.
Entering her junior year as a broadcast journalism student, Fazli said thesituation left her “totally scared out of my mind.” Initially sheconsidered disconnecting her iReport account and waiting to create new contentuntil she has completed her journalism degree. But after reviewing the lawgoverning audio recordings, she began viewing the situation as an example forother citizen journalists, she said.
“You can’t go around scaring people like this,” she said.”I just want people to know what their legal rights are.”