Tuesday, May 4, 2010

World Press Freedom Day - It Starts In Our Own Backyard

The President today, on World Press Freedom Day, said that "World Press Freedom Day is observed every year on May 3 to remind us of the critical importance of this core freedom...It is also a day for us to sound the alarm about restrictions on the media as well as the threats, violence or imprisonment of many of its members and their families because of their work."

Truer words on this subject cannot be spoken, yet before we encircle the world, we must mind the issues in our own backyard. Such is the case of Jonas Lara, a former Marine who served overseas, and returned to study photography, and who graduated with a degree. Lara, directed his considerable talents on documenting the underground world of graffiti artists, and has made some remarkable images during this ongoing project. (His blog can be found here).

After Lara had convinced the artists to allow him to photograph them (no small task), he recieved tips as to where they would be, and went there on his own to shoot it, in much the same way that, say, Mary Ellen Mark documented the prostitutes of Bombay (here), a photojournalist sometimes can find themselves present during illegal activities. In another example, just two weeks ago the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights (info here) awarded Laura Bauer, Mike McGraw, and Mark Morris of the Kansas City Star an award for their piece "A New Slavery” Human Trafficking in America,”, a " revelatory series [that] exposes America’s weak enforcement system that fails to stop a modern day slave trade of thousands of victims of human trafficking." Simply being in the same place where a crime is being committed does not make everyone within a short measurable distance also guilty of that crime.

And to be perfectly clear - Jonas did not set up the shoot, did not encourage, the artists, did not paint. The artists would have been there with or without Jonas. Jonas merely documented the scene.

(Continued after the Jump)

Journalism is being redrawn before our very eyes, and simply because Lara was not working for a mainstream/well-known media conglomerate on a socially powerful human interest story (and some might suggest that the grafitti artist is a powerful human interest story anyway) doesn't mean that he's not worthy of protection as a member of a free press. Apparently, the police CONFISCATED AND searched his camera and used the images they saw to make further arrests and it seems they are suggesting that those images are evidence. I submit that those images were viewed and information obtained without a warrant, and in violation of Lara's First Amendment rights, and should not only be excluded as evidence, but (and I am not a lawyer here), but any arrests made by these "ill gotten gains" should be thrown out, as the evidence was not legitimately obtained.

Lara's public defender, David Gottesmann seems to be doing his client a disservice, if, as PDN reports (here) , "David Gottesmann, has so far refused to consider his rights as a photographer as part of the defense. “Every time I bring [photographer’s rights or First Amendment rights] up, he just laughs at me,” Lara says."

The NPPA, an organization that represents the rights of American press photographers, should be involved in this issue, for certain, as well as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. At a time when staff photographers are being let go left and right, freelance photographers working on stories on specific assignments (and accepting all liabilities for that assignment as per most contracts) or on projects that, when completed, they will propose to a media outlet or publish on their own, are the new lifeblood of the National Press Photographers Association, and as Lara is looking at a criminal conviction, someone of skill and talent defending the rights of photographers - again, especially freelancers - should be on this case, post haste.

The President closed his remarks saying "But for every media worker who has been targeted there are countless more who continue to inform their communities despite the risks of reprisal. On World Press Freedom Day, we honor those who carry out these vital tasks despite the many challenges and threats they face as well as the principle that a free and independent press is central to a vibrant and well-functioning democracy."

Amen. In the meantime, Jonas is inable to afford an attorney that doesn't laugh at his first amendment discussions or takes him seriously, so we should all step up and help him out. To do so, donate here.

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