Magazine article American Journalism Review

A Forceful Way to Get the Picture

Magazine article American Journalism Review

A Forceful Way to Get the Picture

Article excerpt

About 5,000 very unhappy Michigan State fans got carried away March 27, after their men's basketball team lost to Duke in the Final Four. What was to have been a celebratory gathering turned into an ugly brawl, as disappointed MSU supporters set cars on fire, broke windows and tussled with police officers.

Police arrested 27 people, and several were arraigned on charges including armed robbery, inciting a riot and indecent exposure. A freelance photographer covering the fracas for the Associated Press took five rolls of film to a Meijer food and department store for developing. Store employees, recognizing that the film included scenes from the melee, notified police detectives, who obtained search warrants and seized the freelancer's film, as well as some rolls belonging to other customers.

Meijer spokesman John Zimmerman labeled the events of the night of March 27 "a well-publicized act of violence," adding that "if any of the people complain that their pictures were confiscated by the police department, we don't want their business anyway," according to AP.

Robert Ianni, an official in the Michigan attorney general's office, told AP that once you give film to a photo processor to be developed, you've also given up any expectation that it will be kept private. "If you want privacy, develop it yourself," Ianni said. This is probably news to the millions of people who innocently deposit their film at a photo shop, never dreaming that it could find its way into the hands of authorities without their knowledge and consent.

Unfortunately, using their own photo labs didn't protect the editorial privacy of the 19 news organizations that received subpoenas from local prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III. He demanded all the videotape and film they had shot that contained images of the riot.

Several of the organizations voluntarily turned over published or broadcast material to the authorities. They included the East Lansing State Journal, whose photographer had been hit in the head with a bottle by a rioter who didn't want his picture taken. But citing their need to remain independent from law enforcement, most refused to produce any photos or footage that hadn't been made public.

It wasn't as if the East Lansing police didn't have images of the melee. Law enforcement personnel had shot their own videos, and some citizens provided photographs to them voluntarily. …

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