Tim Tai, the University of Missouri student photojournalist who was blocked from covering a campus protest and instantly became a national symbol for free press, will be recognized as a “First Amendment Defender.”
The Radio Television Digital News Foundation announced on Thursday that Tai will receive the newly created First Amendment Defender Award, for his public stand in support of journalists’ rights.
“While covering student protests at the University of Missouri in the fall of 2015, overnight Tim Tai became one of the most visible journalists in America,” a statement from RTDNF said. “As seen in a viral video, Tai was confronted by university students, faculty and staff, threatening him with violence if he did not abandon his efforts to cover the protests. Instead, he stood his ground and patiently asserted his First Amendment right to stand in a public place and report on the events around him.”
Tai was freelancing for ESPN when he tried to photograph the campsite of Concerned Student 1950, a group of protesters who have been calling attention to racial issues on campus. The protesters, who largely consisted of students with a few university employees, demanded that Tai give them privacy and stop taking pictures of their tents on the campus quad. Mark Schierbecker, another student photographer, recorded the entire interaction, despite also being told to leave and threatened by a communications professor.
As the students chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, reporters have to go,” Tai calmly told them, “This is the First Amendment. It protects your right to be here and mine.”
The video sparked national outrage, prompting the Missouri student protesters to remove their signs banning the media but also setting off a series of similar no-media stances at campus protests across the country.
Tai, along with the RTDNF’s other First Amendment award recipients, will receive the award in Washington, D.C. on March 16.
In a statement after the video was released, Student Press Law Center executive director Frank LoMonte praised Tai for being “fearless and well-trained” in his knowledge of his First Amendment rights.
“Student journalist Tim Tai handled the confrontation on the quad of the University of Missouri with admirable professionalism, and he has continued to do so afterward as a voice of calm, maturity and good sense,” LoMonte said. “Like any good photojournalist, Tim knew and respectfully asserted his right to document events visible from a public space where he was legally entitled to stand.”
The SPLC has compiled a guide to taking photos and shooting videos at protests, demonstrations and crime scenes.