NPPA Releases Memo On Photographers' Rights To Take Pictures In Public Places

Aug 27, 2005

PHOENIX, AZ  – It’s been almost four years since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and in that time photojournalists have faced an increasing wave of harassment and obstacles – often in the name of national security – while trying to do their work.

“The National Press Photographers Association has been called upon time and time again to speak out on behalf of photojournalists’ rights and to fight efforts to limit or prohibit photography in public places and of public facilities,” NPPA president Alicia Wagner Calzada said today as she opened the Women In Photojournalism Conference at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort in Phoenix, AZ. "Last year there was an attempted ban on all photography in the New York City subways and on the Metropolitan Transit Authority busses, and a successful fight to defeat the proposal was led by the NPPA and other media groups."

“Photojournalists clearly have a Constitutional right guaranteed by the First Amendment to make photographs in public places. But often law enforcement officials and security agencies believe – wrongly so – that in the name of homeland defense there are new federal laws that somehow give them additional rights to restrict photography. This is just not the case.”

To clarify the issue, NPPA asked attorneys Kurt Wimmer and John Blevins of the Washington office of the Covington & Burling law firm to produce a memorandum outlining the rights of photojournalists to make pictures in public places. The memorandum, released by NPPA and Calzada today at the Women In Photojournalism Conference, concludes: "No specific post-September 11 federal law grants the government any additional rights to restrict visual newsgathering, photojournalism, or photography in general.”

Singled out from their memorandum are these significant points:

* The Constitution protects the media’s right to freely gather news, which includes the right to make photographs in a public forum;

* There is no federal law that would prohibit photography in public places or restrict photography of public places and/or structures;

* Any restrictions that the government does impose would need to have supporting evidence that it was essential for public safety. The burden is on the government;

* Government officials cannot single out news cameras for removal while continuing to allow the general public to remain in a location, particularly if the public is taking pictures;

* When journalists are denied access, they should avoid confrontation and arrest and instead gather as much information as possible so that they can later seek relief through proper channels.

The memorandum is published here as a downloadable Acrobat .PDF file as a public service for distribution to journalists and newsgathering organizations.

“We encourage all news organizations to consult with their own attorneys regarding the best procedures for dealing with overzealous police and security guards,” Calzada said. “And it is a good idea to have a plan of action before an incident occurs. Please download the entire memorandum from the NPPA Web site and review it with your staff, supervisors, and editors.”

For more information please contact Calzada at president@nppa.org.