San Diego SPJ: Intimidation of Journalists at the Border Needs to Stop

Five American journalists have sued the U.S. government, alleging that authorities violated their First Amendment rights by inspecting their cameras and notebooks and questioning them extensively about their coverage of last year’s migrant caravan. Their detailed accounts, on pages 15-34 of a complaint filed Nov. 20 by the ACLU, are alarming and should be read by any journalist who leaves or enters the United States.

It is also alarming that the detained journalists were all freelancers, who may have been seen as easier targets for harassment.

We understand the caravan was a significant challenge for law enforcement, but harassing journalists for confidential information as a condition to return home is not how to address it. The actions described in the lawsuit amount to a direct attack on journalists’ ability to do their jobs and, if not addressed and corrected, could have a chilling effect.

The U.S. government has yet to publicly address its actions in any meaningful way. Those actions may never have come to light if KNSD, the NBC station in San Diego, hadn’t received records from a government whistleblower showing the names and photographs of 59 people that the agency linked to the caravan. Ten were identified as journalists.

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists applauds the ACLU for taking on this issue and asks the public for its support in ensuring this intimidating behavior stops. Journalists are not informants or intelligence agents for the U.S. government. These tactics are common in dictatorial regimes but have no place in a healthy democracy.

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