Here We Go Again: Journalists, Police Gear Up for the 2012 Political Party Conventions
Miller, Emily, News Media and the Law
About 80 reporters stashed their notebooks, halted their Twitter updates and took a mid-day field trip in late June to the Mint Museum in Charlotte to watch Convention, a documentary on how The Denver Post covered the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
This is just one of the many ways The Charlotte Observer's staff is preparing for the upcoming Democratic National Convention, which will take place Sept. 3-6 in Charlotte, N.C.
"You can study this stuff all you want and watch movies, but you won't know what it's like until you're in it," the paper's political reporter Jim Morrill cautioned. "Things could happen. I don't expect anything to happen, but you never know. Minneapolis didn't expect it."
The 2008 political party conventions in Denver, Colo., and St. Paul, Minn., triggered the arrests of dozens of reporters. As a result, police and journalists in this year's convention cities - the Republican National Convention will be in Tampa, Fla., from Aug. 27-30 - are working to eliminate confusion about their respective roles at the big events.
Technological advancements have changed the way news is covered since the last political party conventions, at which time the iPhone was only a year old and Twitter was still somewhat in its infancy.
"It's more complicated these days," said Jim Walser, senior editor for local news at The Charlotte Observer. "It's not just the print product and the website. There's faster means of communication, so it's more radically different."
Walser said the last conventions created a concern that journalists could be mistaken for protesters. He said the publication has been planning its convention coverage for more than a year and in that time staff members have sought advice from the Associated Press security team and the convention staff. He also added that the newspaper will have lawyers on stand-by during the convention.
The U.S. Supreme Court has noted that journalists are entitled to some newsgathering protection under the First Amendment. However, the scope of that protection - and its restrictions - is unclear.
Most courts have ruled that journalists are not given a greater right of access to property than the public under die First Amendment. This will be true for journalists covering protests outside the upcoming political party conventions.
Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Laura McElroy said the department is not giving out press credentials to differentiate reporters from protesters.
"We're not in the business of arresting reporters," she said. "We are in die business of arresting lawbreakers. If police are giving a lawful order to clear an area, that applies to anyone in that area."
While reporters and the public cannot be denied access to public forums, state law and local governments may impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on activities taking place on public property. These restrictions must be content neutral, be narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open alternative channels of communication, according to The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press' First Amendment Handbook.
Although police officers may restrict access, they must suggest another place for journalists to do their jobs, according to media lawyer Ashley Kissinger, a partner at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schultz LLP in Denver. The firm ran the Reporters Committee's hotline for journalists during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.
"Even if an officer is telling you, ? need to restrict you,' he must provide you with ample alternative means of communication," said Kissinger.
As in a number of states, there are laws in Florida and in North Carolina designed to prevent illegal wiretapping and to protect an individual's right to privacy.
In North Carolina, the wiretapping statute is a one-party consent law, meaning one party to the conversation must consent to being recorded. …