Media & Communications Law

Judge blocks riot charge over journalist's protest report; prosecutor sees her as a protester

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A judge in North Dakota on Monday refused to sign a document charging a radio journalist with engaging in a riot for her reporting on protests at an oil pipeline construction site.

Judge John Grinsteiner found there was no probable cause to charge radio journalist Amy Goodman with rioting, report the Bismarck Tribune and the New York Times.

Goodman called the judge’s action “a complete vindication of my right as a journalist to cover the attack on the protesters” who oppose the Dakota Access pipeline, Democracy Now reports. Her Sept. 3 report said protesters clashing with security guards had been pepper sprayed and bitten by dogs. Three guards were reportedly injured during the confrontation.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe claims the construction site contains historic artifacts.

“I wasn’t trespassing,” Goodman said in a Facebook Live broadcast. “I wasn’t rioting. The Democracy Now team and I were there to report, to document what was happening on the ground. These charges are simply a threat to all journalists around the country: Do not come to North Dakota.”

Prosecutor Ladd Erickson told the Times it’s possible that Goodman will face other charges after a review of unedited and unpublished videos of the incident. He told the Bismarck Tribune last week that he believed Goodman was acting more as a protester than a journalist.

“I think she put together a piece to influence the world on her agenda, basically. That’s fine, but it doesn’t immunize her from the laws of the state,” Erickson told the newspaper.

Erickson also told the Bismarck Tribune in this story that he sees no difference between Erickson and other demonstrators. “She’s a protester, basically. Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions,” he said. Erickson had initially charged Goodman with trespass but dropped the charge.

The Washington Post blog the Watch criticized Erickson’s comments. “The fact that Goodman may have been covering the protests from a point of view that’s friendly to the protesters doesn’t mean she’s culpable for the actions of those protesters who may have broken the law,” the column asserts. “There’s no ‘advocacy exception’ to the First Amendment’s free-press protections.”

See also: “US will halt work on oil pipeline opposed by Standing Rock Sioux tribe; judge refused injunction”

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