Illustration by Amanda Alten.

Correction: In the printed version of this editorial, City on a Hill Press (CHP) incorrectly attributed a quote to Santa Cruz District Attorney Bob Lee, stating: “Santa Cruz District Attorney Bob Lee said ‘the act of newsgathering at an announced demonstration, which turned into an unannounced building occupation, constitutes felony conspiracy to promote trespass and vandalism,’ according to Indybay.” In the corrected version, this quote is attributed instead to IndyBay, and not the DA himself. CHP apologizes for this mistake.

Eleven reporters and community activists were arrested last fall when Occupy Santa Cruz occupied a vacant Wells Fargo building. Only four of these 11, all community activists, have been acquitted thus far. The remaining seven are either journalists for independent news media organizations or media spokespersons for Occupy. These journalists and spokespeople should be acquitted as well.

The charges the seven journalists and spokespeople face: felony conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, felony vandalism, refusing to leave private property and two misdemeanor counts of trespassing. These combined may constitute a maximum three-year prison sentence.

An article in IndyBay states that Santa Cruz District Attorney Bob Lee “simply asserts the act of newsgathering at an announced demonstration, which turned into an unannounced building occupation, constitutes felony conspiracy to promote trespass and vandalism.”

Lee said Indybay photojournalists Bradley Allen and Alex Darocy, two of those arrested and not acquitted, “effectively serv[ed] as the media arm of the organization; the group’s propagandists,” according to Indybay. Without equality in reporting, their rights as journalists were moot.

At the same Occupy event, a photographer from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, despite having pictures from inside the occupied building, was not arrested, according to Indybay. Photographers and reporters from all news outlets should be treated equally, and have the same freedoms to gather the news.

This crackdown on journalist efforts surrounding the Occupy movement is not an isolated one. In fact, around 70 journalists have been arrested in 12 cities around the United States as a result of Occupy, according to a report put together by Josh Stearns, Free Press journalism and public media campaign director.

Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, released January of this year, found a significant drop in press freedom in the United States. This nation has been targeting journalists with “repeated crackdowns on journalists covering Occupy movements,” as reported by the Huffington Post earlier this year.

Journalists should be aware of their rights, especially in states with shield laws, or laws that protect journalists from sharing sensitive information they have gathered with the courtroom. The majority of states in the country have shield laws,
including California.

When covering events like this occupation, journalists should also be sure to wear valid press passes and act according to their title with journalistic integrity and rigor.

However, this is not all to say that journalists’ freedom to report has not come into question with excessive, nationwide regulation endeavors surrounding the Occupy movement. This move puts all journalists and their profession at risk in a time when not government control, but inquiry and investigation are most important.