Violating Press Freedom

According to the Roanoke Times, police raided the student newspaper of James Madison University on Friday and confiscated hundreds of photos of an off-campus riot. If the story is true, this seems to be a deplorable violation of press freedom. A state attorney claimed the seizing of photos was designed to identify culprits and get dangerous criminals off the street, but there are laws protecting newspapers from having their reporting materials confiscated by police. In my journalistic ethics class we talk about the importance of the press being independent and protected against government intrusion. With very few exceptions, journalists should not be forced to turn over to police their notes, field tapes or other materials gathered while reporting. Otherwise government officials could seize anything they don’t like, to prevent stories being published about them. And journalists would lose the trust of the public, who see them as independent watchdogs on government, not lapdogs of the police.

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