Wednesday, June 4, 2008

EDITORIAL: Were First Amendment Rights Trampled by F&M Cops?

On Tuesday, Public Safety Officers of Franklin & Marshall College appear to have trampled on the First Amendment Rights of two editors and publishers of a small alternative local newspaper, the Lancaster Post.

The incident has been reported all day by NewsLanc with frequent updates. There is also an account in today's Lancaster New Era.

Especially chilling to members of the media were:

· The physical arrest by Public Safety Officers of Christiaan A. Hart-Nibbrig for doing nothing more than locating a newspaper distribution box in the public right- of- way at the corner of School Lane Road and Marietta Pike. Hart-Nibbrig was detained for two hours, not charged with any crime, and released.

· Hart-Nibbrig statement that his digital camera, a common tool for most media, was tampered with by F&M’s Public Safety Officers. Images were deleted, according to Hart-Nibbrig and Ron Harper, Jr. F&M denies the images were deleted. According to Harper, the memory card in the camera shows the deletions.

Harper’s video camera was turned off by the Security Officers during the incident. However, available earlier recordings validate the assertion that, while placing and securing the security box, neither Hart-Nibbrig or Harper invaded the property lines of the residence occupied by
F & M president John Fry.

The deliberate (or negligent) destruction of the images on the reporter’s digital cameras is a clear violation of their First Amendment Rights of Freedom of the Press. No authority – especially one with the power to arrest and prosecute citizens – should ever have the right to review, examine, or destroy a reporter’s work – whether they are notes, recordings, or digital files.

To infringe the rights of a working journalist is certainly a path to the loss of our freedom.
The people’s right to know only works when a free press can work without oppression by powerful forces.