Journalists seek apology from Haslam over reporter's arrest

Monday, October 31, 2011 at 5:55pm
Staff reports

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.

 

SPJ letter:

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 Meador be withdrawn and that he receive an apology from the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.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.

Respectfully,

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:

 

Chris,

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.

Bill Gibbons

16 Comments on this post:

By: JeffF on 10/31/11 at 8:59

I wouldn't call what the Nashville Scene has been doing on this topic "journalism". They have been an active participant with their boosterism. They even promote the movement on their Pith site. They should be subject to the same treatment as every other protester. They quit being journalists when they called for more troops.

By: global_citizen on 11/1/11 at 7:52

Well, Jeff, thankfully journalism, like art, is given wide latitude and is not subject to the approval or disapproval of any citizen. It's simply protected. As it should be. We would have no freedom of the press if any journalist or newspaper is deemed illegitimate because of one person's partisan denigration.

By: macjedi on 11/1/11 at 8:45

I'll be FLOORED if Haslam, or any other GOP crook, apologizes to anyone. He is a slimy weasel and a coward. This would take some spine, which he does not have.

Personally, the MASSIVE public embarrassment is plenty for me to get my schadenfreude on.

By: dva56 on 11/1/11 at 9:03

What's next Haslam? Planning on calling in the National Guard for a Kent State reenactment?

By: gohomenow on 11/1/11 at 9:22

Seems Haslam's nose, much like Pinnochio's, is growing by the day.

By: pswindle on 11/1/11 at 10:07

Halsam is a joke to the state of TN.

By: tomba1 on 11/1/11 at 2:55

It's a shame this so-called newspaper can't just focus on the news and actually report it as the "freedom of the press" right suggests. Nope, can't do it. Since one of their own either chose or was instructed to become involved, the media has become orgasmic over this entire matter while most of us could not care less. If we did, we would be down there too. It is a sad time when the media is so lacking in subject matter or so uninterested in finding real news that the it has to become a participant in order to create news rather than report it. And they still hide behind the "freedom of the press" mantra instead of being responsible and accountable for their actions..

By: Motorshag on 11/1/11 at 3:56

The Scene "journalism". Don't make me laugh!

By: govskeptic on 11/2/11 at 6:30

"Board of Professional Journalist"? Don't make us laugh, should
read "Board of Liberal Opinionist"!

By: Moonglow1 on 11/2/11 at 7:45

Moonglow1: Freedom of speech must be protected. Freedom to assemble must be protected. Our country is "occupied" by career politicians purchased by shadowy groups financed by tea zealots like The Kochs and Karl Rove.

It is about time that The People "occupy" our country. We The People do not have lobbyists who represent us. Haslam The Dictator has taken away collective bargaining rights. The people are speaking and it is working. Bank of America will not be charging the monthly fees on debit cards. Yes journalists should be covering this new Civil Rights movement. Haslam, the people will prevail.

God bless The Occupy Nashville group and God Bless the USA.

And vote these bums out of office.

Oh I forgot, the tea's took away that right. You now need your picture, birth certificate, thumb print, DNA, whatever to be able to vote Yup them Republicans-they stand for freedom.

By: yogiman on 11/2/11 at 7:50

The only photos I saw of this incident only showed the "reporter" in the mob. No sign of identification was shown.

How was the police supposed to know he was a reporter; because he told them? If he did, did he identify himself? I didn't see that on the pictures I saw.

By: yogiman on 11/2/11 at 7:55

I agree with you on voting these bums out of office, Moonglow1. I've never voted for anyone more that twice since I began voting sixty years ago.

By: Moonglow1 on 11/2/11 at 8:07

Moonglow1: yogi-seems like once they get into office it's all downhill. They only care about their power and prestige. Helping the people is the last thing on their minds. It's all about them not us.

By: nash615 on 11/2/11 at 8:23

Call for Gibbons' dismissal.

Impeach Haslam.

Put the crooks in jail.

By: Ingleweird on 11/2/11 at 9:54

Whoa whoa, Nash615, BTFU a second here.

Removing Haslam from office would leave us with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey as Governor. While it would probably make for hysterically surreal political humor, SURELY we don't want that!

By: smiless on 11/9/11 at 1:33

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