Journalists Risk Legal Battles & Prison Time For Covering Dakota Access Pipeline Protests
Three reporters face felony charges for documenting nonviolent actions against the pipeline, including an Emmy-winning documentarian who could serve a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison.
AUSTIN, Texas — Although charges were recently dropped against prominent progressive journalist Amy Goodman, multiple reporters still face serious charges for covering protests against the Dakota Access pipeline.
Among them is Deia Schlosberg, an Emmy-winning documentarian who was recording nonviolent protests against the Dakota Access pipeline for an upcoming film. She’s currently up against three felony charges which carry a maximum combined sentence of 45 years in prison.
On Monday, a judge in North Dakota threw out the case against Goodman, an award-winning journalist and host of Democracy Now! North Dakota State’s Attorney Ladd R. Erickson had initially filed charges of criminal trespass against Goodman on Sept. 8, just days after a Democracy Now! video showing pipeline security attacking Native American activists with dogs went viral. On Oct. 14, the trespass charge was dropped and replaced with a misdemeanor charge of rioting.
Tom Dickson, Goodman’s lawyer, told the Huffington Post’s Michael McLaughlin that Goodman is unlikely to encounter any other charges. Dickson continued:
“The first charge was frivolous. The second was even more frivolous, so unless they’re going for a hat trick, I think this case is over. We want reporters to report the news whether we agree with their politics.”
Watch Press Freedom Victory: Riot Charges Dropped Against Amy Goodman Over Dakota Pipeline Coverage:
In an editorial published Tuesday by CommonDreams, Schlosberg called the felony charges against her “outrageous,” arguing that she was “just doing her job” at the time of her arrest. She wrote:
“I am a climate reporter; my specialty is following the story of how humankind is creating a grave problem for civilization by continuing to flood the atmosphere with greenhouse gases through the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial processes. I don’t think there is nearly enough reporting on climate change nor the movement of people around the world working to lessen the impacts of climate change.”
Schlosberg noted that two other reporters, Lindsey Grayzel and Carl Davis, are charged with felonies for covering concurrent anti-Dakota Access actions in Washington state.
Four members of the Unicorn Riot media collective, which has covered the Native American “water protectors” since April, have been arrested while reporting on protests. Two arrests occurred in North Dakota on Sept. 13, and the other two were arrested at separate direct actions in Iowa earlier this month.
On Monday, Unicorn Riot noted that these arrests directly infringed upon the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment:
“All four reporters currently facing charges were actively engaged in reporting breaking news at the time, and would have continued documenting and broadcasting if not directly prevented from doing so by their arrests.”
The nonprofit, independent media collective further noted that fighting the arrests costs time and eats into scarce financial resources. It continued:
“Attacks on media organizations create an environment where the actions of DAPL security and law enforcement cannot be properly documented by the press. This makes it possible for state (or corporate mercenary) forces to commit serious human rights violations while avoiding accountability for their actions.”
In an editorial published on Friday by The Nation, Josh Fox, an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker, warned that the arrests of journalists are a “threat to democracy.”
“The arrest of journalists, filmmakers, and others witnessing and reporting on citizen protests against fossil-fuel infrastructure amid climate change is part of a worrisome and growing pattern,” Fox wrote.
On his website, Fox posted an open letter demanding that the state drop all charges against Schlosberg. As of Tuesday afternoon, the letter had already received more than 23,500 signatures, including musician Neil Young and actors Daryl Hannah and Mark Ruffalo–all of whom are known for their environmental activism.
Fox warned that fundamental American freedoms are at stake if journalists cannot safely perform their jobs for fear of arrest. He concluded:
“This is not only about reporting on the climate-change movement. Journalists have also been arrested reporting on Black Lives Matter, the movement for Native rights, and many other important movements the corporate media fails to cover. The First Amendment and the Constitution are at stake in this case. If we lose it, we lose America too.”
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Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist from Austin, Texas and Staff Writer for MintPress News, Kit O’Connell’s writing has also appeared at Truthout, the Texas Observer, and The Establishment.
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