St. Paul won't prosecute working journalists arrested at RNC

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 19, 2008 - 11:48 PM

The city said that although misdemeanor charges won't be pursued, it doesn't mean the arrests were improper.

Without admitting wrongdoing on the part of police, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said Friday that the city won't push the prosecution of working journalists who were picked up in mass arrests during the Republican National Convention.

The city attorney's office recommended against prosecuting misdemeanor charges of presence at an unlawful assembly. If charged with more serious crimes, journalists could face prosecution.

Dozens of journalists were among more than 800 people arrested during the convention, held Sept. 1-4.

In an era when journalism is evolving, the term journalist will be defined "very broadly," Coleman said. It will not only include members of the mainstream media but also independent bloggers and publishers, too.

Cases will be looked at one-by-one, and verified journalists will not face further court action, City Attorney John Choi said. Just because charges aren't pursued doesn't mean the arrest was improper, Choi said. It's an officer's responsibility to protect public safety and control a scene; prosecutors decide whether charges are warranted, he said.

"This decision reflects the values we have in St. Paul to protect and promote our First Amendment rights to freedom of the press," he said.

Journalists aren't above the law, but police shouldn't arrest journalists who are doing their jobs and not interfering with the law, said Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota. "I guess we need more training of police so they'll understand they need to pull back."

Defining who is and who isn't a journalist -- network TV reporters vs. bloggers, for instance -- could be tricky, Kirtley said. An unintended consequence as more people call themselves journalists is that press privileges and access for all media could be reduced, she said.

Choi also said Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! and one of the most visible media arrests, and two of her producers, Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, won't face prosecution.

Dave Aeikens, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, said it's good news the journalists won't be charged. "While it is unfortunate they were initially arrested, this was the best result after it happened."

Chris Havens • 651-298-1542

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