Tag Archives | Charlie Kratovil

Reminders: Red lines in Journalism

In response to a confrontation that took place Aug. 3 at a newsworthy event in New Brunswick, where a private security guard took a journalist’s camera and later grabbed him in the hotel lobby and led him to the street, the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ) believes it is essential to remind the organizers of public events about the importance of observing legal and professional protocols on which all journalists depend for their safety and livelihood.

The events of Aug. 3 involve a speech by CNN journalist April Ryan at the 4th Annual NJ Parents Summit, an event to which public registrants had been invited. During Ryan’s speech, a man identified as a bodyguard assigned to Ryan took down the tripod from which Charlie Kratovil, the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, had been filming, seized his camera, and later physically removed Kratovil from the venue.

Kratovil had been invited to cover the event by a public-relations firm working with the organizers, had gone through the registration system and RSVP’d his attendance, did not conceal his video-recording activity, and had no outward indication that videography was prohibited in the venue. (Journalists had been freely admitted to cover other events during the Summit, including shooting video.)

Details of the specific event are disputed, and may be sorted out in the coming weeks by the legal system, as Kratovil has stated that he will press assault charges. Nevertheless, the larger issue of journalists’ ability to safely cover events of public interest and importance is a recurring one of great importance to the SPJ and its members.

As a first principle, it is never under any circumstances permissible for a person aggrieved at being photographed or videotaped to lay hands on the journalist, or attempt to take away the journalist’s equipment. This is a bright-line rule from which all journalists benefit, and which must be observed and enforced rigorously. Even in the event of a trespass (and Kratovil, a registered guest, was not a trespasser), the only proper recourse is to notify law enforcement, not resort to “self-help.”

Moreover, “ground rules” about the use of recording equipment at events to which members of the public are invited should be clearly spelled out, in advance, to all attendees. To the extent that recording is to be restricted, such restrictions should be uniformly enforced — or unenforced — among all attendees, regardless of their media affiliation.

While journalists may have no special rights superior to members of the public, they do not have fewer rights than others.  A no-photography policy should apply to everyone. Nor should the perceived viewpoint of a news organization be regarded as grounds to deny admittance to a member of the media; people who make news do not have a license to dictate how and by whom they are covered.…

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NJ-SPJ objects to search warrant issued against New Brunswick Today

CONTACT: Miriam Ascarelli, NJ-SPJ president
Phone: 862-576-1256
Email: prez@njspj.org

NJ-SPJ statement on search warrant issued against New Brunswick Today

The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists strongly objects to a decision by a Superior Court judge to authorize a local police department to execute a search warrant against New Brunswick Today in order to recover an old water meter that the newspaper was using to investigate alleged corruption at the New Brunswick Water Utility.

The search warrant was signed by Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Colleen M. Flynn at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 20. Less than a half hour later, two New Brunswick Police officers knocked on the doors of the newspaper in search of the water meter as well as the memory card from the camera that was used to produce a broadcast about the water utility. After a cordial 13-minute conversation that was recorded on video by Editor Charlie Kratovil, Kratovil turned the water meter over to the police.

As for the memory card, the broadcast was live streamed on Facebook so no such storage device exists, Kratovil told the officers.

NJ-SPJ takes search warrants against news organizations very seriously. Such search warrants are rare. They can have chilling effects on journalists and deter them from investigating instances of government misconduct. They also circumvent the New Jersey Shield Law and the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 which were enacted to protect against such governmental seizures by providing a judicial subpoena process where journalists and news organization have an opportunity to be heard before being required to disclose or provide such sought after material.

In this case, the water meter was given to Kratovil by a confidential source, and it was featured in a video that was posted on the newspaper’s Facebook page on Dec. 16. In that video, Kratovil showed viewers an old water meter that he said came from a local business where, curiously, the meter showed water usage to be zero.

“I don’t know,’’ Kratovil told his viewers. “It looks like this meter might have seen a little bit more water go through it. We’ve been exploring what could potentially lead to this, and we actually showed this to someone who used to work at the New Brunswick Water Utility, and he said – and I quote – ‘This is proof there is a crime committed here.’ ’’

It is the nature of journalism that reporters sometimes receive leaked information. Sometimes that material is illegally obtained by a third party. However, that does not make it illegal for journalists to use it.

Perhaps the most famous example of leaked information obtained by a third party is The Pentagon Papers. In that landmark 1971 case, the U.S.…

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