The Society of Professional Journalists San Diego Pro Chapter believes that law enforcement went too far when an FBI agent and a San Diego Police Department detective on the San Diego Joint Terrorism Task Force visited a San Diego City College student journalist’s home to inquire about a news crew filming outside the FBI San Diego office for a story about sex trafficking.
City Times, a student publication of City College, first reported the visit on May 8; an FBI spokesman and the college’s communications department chair later confirmed the details to us.
We urge law enforcement officials to exercise restraint when questioning journalists about their reporting, particularly when student journalists are involved. This line of questioning is especially troubling as it was conducted at a journalist’s house instead of by contacting the college or student newspaper itself.
The college’s communications department chair, Laura Castañeda, says it’s understandable that the FBI would follow up on concerns, but agents chose to “send a San Diego Detective from the Terrorism Task Force to a student’s home” and “never checked with the College to verify whether these individuals were student journalists.”
The incident underscores the importance of journalism teachers instructing students about their rights and responsibilities to protect source material and how to interact with law enforcement agencies. To use a police tape metaphor, journalists need to know where the line is to avoid crossing it. But they can get close as they need to get the story.