By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Des Moines Register calls for charges against reporter to be dropped

In an editorial that’s getting a lot of national attention, the Des Moines Register is calling for a criminal case to be dropped against one of its reporters, Andrea Sahouri, who was charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts. Sahouri was arrested at a protest on May 31 last year. Her trial is scheduled for March 8. The Register puts it this way:

Sahouri, who has worked as a reporter for the Register since August 2019, was doing her constitutionally protected job at the protest, conducting interviews, taking photos and recording what was happening.

If convicted, she’ll have a criminal record and faces possible penalties of 30 days in jail and a fine of $625 for each offense.

The editorial also notes that the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented 126 arrests and detainments of journalists in 2020, most of them at Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

And though the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor may resulted in a massive increase in such detentions, there’s nothing new about it. In 2018, police in Bridgeport, Connecticut, detained a reporter during a Black Lives Matter protest in a transparent attempt to stop her from doing her job. Their actions were the subject of a 2019 GBH News Muzzle Award.

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  1. MagellanNH

    These cases are often framed as law enforcement versus journalists, but imo they usually are also about the public’s willingness to trade some liberty for safety. I doubt the prosecutor would be pursuing this case if he didn’t have the public’s support.

    This makes me wonder if what’s going on here is that the Des Moines public is quite happy to trade some liberty to ensure law and order, or possibly worse, to ensure that POCs are kept in their place.

    • MagellanNH

      One other possibility, again assuming the public supports the prosecutor, is that this could be a further legacy from Pres. Trump’s anti-press rhetoric. A sort of “jail a reporter to own the libs” sentiment.

      Maybe the best case scenario here is that this is “just” a law enforcement versus the free press struggle. Of course, that’s plenty scary by itself.

  2. Marcus Breen

    The collision between reporting and law enforcement marks a significant change in the acknowledged role of journalists in democracies. Unfortunately, the public perception has been biased in favor of law enforcement after years of propaganda by self-interested police advocacy groups. This is a major challenge for journalism and media studies: to support the public interest by doing what you are doing here Dan, bringing this kind of incident and many like it into view.

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