Should citizen journalism be illegal

A stabbing that took place this evening ( April 26 2011 ) brought this subject to mind. As Springfield Police were securing the scene and caring for the victim a person was videotaping the event. During the conversation between two officers one asked if it was Channel 20 News recording for television coverage. The other officer confirmed it was a citizen from the neighborhood.

Illinois is one of several States that have made it illegal to record video or audio of police officers while they are on duty. You are not allowed to record your own arrest. The way laws have been interpreted and enforced citizens aren’t allowed to record any event involving law enforcement.

Many might ask in a democratic country why can’t you document police activities in public places? Some people feel this get tough against recording policy is do to police being seen in a negative light. Over the years there have been many videos surface showing police brutality or what some consider excessive force being used. Many of these recordings have led to police officers or security guards being charged with crimes do to the events within the videos.

In some cases it could be argued that the proper amount of force was used. When dealing with highly volatile violent situations you have to respond with equal or greater force. Viewers who aren’t used to seeing this or who don’t see the full video with all events in context may feel boundaries have been crossed.

For many years there has been a debate of what makes a journalist or reporter. In many peoples minds you must work for a traditional media company or have a college degree for journalism or English major. The argument has been that traditional journalist meet & follow certain standards and guidelines. I’ve always found that line of thought rather funny. Considering the many ethics violations, lack of fact checking and conflicts of interest that have taken place within traditional media.

Why is it only those with press credentials get to report what they see? Shouldn’t every citizen have the right to record what is taking place in their neighborhood and in front of their eyes? Especially if they feel what they are seeing is wrong and needing captured as evidence for later review. Why do police officers have the right to record suspects with dashboard cameras but citizens can’t do the same?

I’m not a fan of being recorded everywhere I go. Very few places I do business with don’t have cameras recording customers or visitors. Some people have the opinion – if you aren’t doing anything wrong – why should you mind being monitored. Law enforcement, government agencies and elected officials obviously don’t share this opinion. If they did there would be no law against recording the activities of police.

If citizens in the United States aren’t allow to record the activities of police or government how are we any different than a police state? Isn’t this what many are fighting against in the Middle East and other countries?

The Internet has given everyone the ability to create their own public access show without having to schedule studio time. This public access show can be live at any time of day or night. News is being reported in real time. Much of the time that news is unfiltered and uncensored. Although just like traditional media you should always consider the source of the information being shared. Everyone online and off has an agenda. Some are more honest and forthcoming with this.

Is that agenda what police and government fear? Are they afraid of being portrayed in a bad light? Do they think criminals will use video recordings as a form of boast online? As long as the recording doesn’t interfere with law enforcement activities what is the harm? Is the thought process that criminals will use video to learn police procedures?

I don’t want to see recordings of crime scenes and corpses. But I think citizens should be able to document criminal and police activities in their community. If we aren’t allowed to do this then what is the point of a free society?

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