SPJ Protests Harassment of Reporters Covering Scalia

By: E&P Staff

The Society of Professional Journalists today called on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “to respect the First Amendment rights of journalists to gather news when he speaks at public events.” Meanwhile, the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a complaint with U.S. Attorney John Ashcroft, the U.S. Marshals Service and Mississippi authorities, according to the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American.

And The Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) expressed outrage at the incident.

A federal marshal ordered two print journalists Wednesday covering Scalia’s speech at a high school in Hattiesburg, Miss., to erase their audio recordings of the event. At other Scalia events in the same city, broadcast journalists were asked to turn off their cameras.

“In what can be only described as an ultimate Constitutional irony, Scalia was praising the Constitution and its First Amendment while a federal marshal harassed reporters and curtailed their right to gather news at a public appearance,” said Joel Campell, SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee co-chair.

According to the SPJ, Scalia told students at Presbyterian Christian High School: “You may wonder what makes our Constitution so special. I am here to persuade you that our Constitution is something extraordinary, something to revere.”

SPJ President Gordon “Mac” McKerral said the students attending Scalia’s speech should realize that actions speak louder than words. “It’s unfortunate that Justice Scalia provided a lesson in disrespect for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution he claims to so dearly love,” McKerral said, in a statement. “This incident makes his remarks ring hollow and places him above the law, the epitome of arrogance for a judge, much less a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.”

Jon Broadbooks, executive editor of the Hattiesburg American and vice president of the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information, told his newspaper: “We are deeply concerned over the manner in which this incident was handled. When we have answers to some of our questions we will determine an appropriate next step.”

Judith “Skippy” Haik, president and publisher of the Hattiesburg American, said she was “very disappointed that one of the strongest voices for the people of the United States did not speak out in protection of First Amendment rights.”

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