The Society of Professional Journalists' Middle Tennessee chapter harshly criticized the arrest and treatment of a Nashville Scene reporter today and sought an apology for the state's action.
In a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Safety and Homeland Security commissioner Bill Gibbons, the SPJ board said that the arrest of Jonathan Meador while covering the Occupy Nashville protests early Saturday morning was both unlawful and a violation of his rights under the U.S. and state constitutions.
Gibbons refused to apologize on Monday, stating that "we believe the troopers acted reasonably and in good faith and had probable cause to charge Mr. Meador." In an email to the CEO of SouthComm, the parent company of both the Nashville Scene and The City Paper, Gibbons said, "Given the circumstances, the troopers did not take Mr. Meador's claim to be a member of the media seriously. Unfortunately, but also somewhat understandably, they did not ask Mr. Meador to produce his press credentials."
Gibbons also perpetuated the idea that Meador could have been intoxicated, something disputed by Meador, his editors, other reporters and observers at the scene as well as video.
The two letters are below.
Governor Haslam and Commissioner Gibbons:
The Middle Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the undersigned members of its board of directors write in protest to the unlawful arrest and detention of Nashville Scene reporter Jonathan Meador. The conduct of state police in this matter was outrageous, interfered with legitimate newsgathering, and clearly violated Mr. Meador’s rights as a journalist under the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions.
Mr. Meador was there on assignment to cover a matter of great public interest – an event made even more newsworthy by previous actions of the state and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Video evidence proves Mr. Meador clearly and repeatedly identified himself as a member of the news media. Working journalists should not have to risk being harassed and arrested in the course of doing their job.
We respectfully request that all charges against Mr. Meador be withdrawn and that he receive an apology from the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. We also respectfully request an independent investigation of the conduct of officers involved in Mr. Meador’s arrest and that THP personnel receive training on the constitutional rights of the media and those involved in newsgathering so that similar situations can be avoided in the future.
A prompt response to our concerns will be greatly appreciated.
Deborah Fisher, president; senior editor of news, The Tennessean
Frank Gibson, treasurer; director, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government
Joe Morris, secretary; writer/editor, Parthenon Publishing
Sharon Fitzgerald; newsletter chair; instructor, School of Journalism, MTSU
Rhori Johnston, board member; news anchor, News Channel 5
Brian Reisinger, board member; reporter, Nashville Business Journal
Blake Farmer; board member; reporter, Nashville Public Radio
Nate Rau, board member; reporter, The Tennessean
Caroline Moses, board member; investigative reporter WSMV-TV
Steve Cavendish, board member, editor, Nashville City Paper
Thom Storey, board member; chair, Media Studies Department, Belmont University
Gene Policinski, board member; executive director, First Amendment Center
Milt Capps, board member
Jimmy McCollum, board member; associate professor, Department of Communication and Journalism, Lipscomb University
Letter from Gibbons to SouthComm CEO Chris Ferrell:
As I mentioned to you, you will be getting a formal response from me later this week regarding Jonathan Meador being taken into custody and charged.
As I noted in our conversation, based on our review of the video available to us and interviews with the troopers, we believe the troopers acted reasonably and in good faith and had probable cause to charge Mr. Meador. As I mentioned to you, video shows that, as other reporters were moving away from the protesters, Mr. Meador placed himself in the middle of them. To our knowledge, he had no visible media credentials. Regarding the public intoxication charge, based upon the smell of alcohol and their interaction with him, troopers understandably concluded that he was intoxicated.
Given the circumstances, the troopers did not take Mr. Meador's claim to be a member of the media seriously. Unfortunately, but also somewhat understandably, they did not ask Mr. Meador to produce his press credentials.
Obviously, it was not our intention to take any member of the press doing his or her job into custody for trespassing. I regret any confusion regarding Mr. Meador's role.