That incident, as well as another in which a reporter was arrested as she tried to cover the funeral of a murder victim...even though the reporter had specifically been invited to the funeral.
While we all have been exposed, usually through movies, television, and other media (including my novel, Small Town News) to members of the media who interfere with police and other emergency personnel, for the most part that does not happen. When I worked with young reporters, I always went over the need to be respectful to emergency personnel and not to get in the way.
On the other hand, just as there are reporters who break the rules, there are also law enforcement personnel who like to demonstrate their authority and abuse it in the process. It appears that is what happened with the KY3 reporters and also with the St. Louis reporter. The text of the SPJ letter, addressed to Missouri Peace Officers Association President Kevin Garrison, is printed below:
We are concerned over the treatment working journalists have received from Missouri law enforcement officers this summer. Two unrelated incidents occurred in different locations, involving different agencies, less than a month apart. It seems to us, as members of the nation's most broad-based journalism advocacy organization, that Missouri law enforcement agencies are acting too hastily when news reporters and photographers are performing their constitutionally protected duties.
In early June, Ladue police arrested Margaret Gillerman as she attempted to cover the funeral of Tiffany Marie Souers, a Ladue woman strangled while attending school at Clemson University in South Carolina. Gillerman had been invited to come into the funeral at the church door by one of the family's closest friends and was welcomed by the funeral director handling the service. The story of the young woman by then had a national audience, and drew intense interest in both the St. Louis and the Clemson area.
Later that month, the Missouri Highway Patrol arrested a television news photographer and handcuffed a reporter in Clinton after a fatal building collapse. Sara Sheffield and Cliff Erwin were preparing for a live broadcast at the time. Erwin, the photographer, was arrested during the broadcast. Other reporters and television crews were reporting nearby and allowed to remain.
The Society of Professional Journalists, through its affiliated chapters, ha spent the past month conducting its own review of these two incidents.
While we commend the Missouri Highway Patrol's reputation for normally being cooperative with members of the news media, we feel troopers did not handle this situation in a professional manner. Television news crews are under time pressures that tick down to the second. They have bulky equipment that's hard to move at a moment's notice. There has been no suggestion that this crew's action jeopardized public safety or impeded rescue efforts.
We also believe that, under most circumstances, the Ladue police are respectful of journalists. But again, we question treatment of the Post-Dispatch's reporter and believe police should be more diligent and careful when intruding on the public's First Amendment rights.
We recognize that officers trying to keep the peace in times of crises also face immense pressures. But we urge law enforcement agencies to remember the rights of the news gatherers. There are many cases of journalists providing timely information to help keep streets clear during emergencies of leading to tips that help apprehend criminal suspects.
We are eager to offer our assistance. Our local chapters in Springfield and St. Louis stand ready to help improve relations, or provide training, if needed. Please call the president of the the local SPJ chapters listed below to discuss these cases. We hope we can work together to prevent these kinds of incidents in the future.