ATHENS, GA (November 10, 2015) – The president, along with the general counsel, of the National Press Photographers Association today issued a statement regarding the highly-visible events that took place yesterday on the campus of the University of Missouri.
“NPPA's leaders, on behalf of our members, commend the calm and professional manner with which student journalist and NPPA member Tim Tai dealt with yesterday’s confrontation,” NPPA president Mark Dolan said today.
“And kudos to the University of Missouri Journalism faculty for the job they did in training Tai, as well as Mark Schierbecker, a student who captured video of the incident.”
“It is sad that the same cannot be said for a University of Missouri Communication department assistant professor, Melissa Click. She can be seen on Schierbecker’s video not only trying to deny Tai and others of their constitutionally-protected rights, but she went so far as to call for ‘some muscle’ to forcibly and physically deny members of the media from covering this event as it unfolded on public property at a state land-grant college,” Dolan said. “One can only hope that teaching University of Missouri students about their First Amendment rights is not one of her responsibilities.”
NPPA’s lawyer, Mickey H. Osterreicher, an expert on media rights, privacy, and the First Amendment, echoed the professional organization of visual journalists’ degree of discomfort and distain for yesterday’s events as they were captured on video during the public demonstration on campus.
“Covering protests is difficult enough, even under the best of circumstances. To have visual journalism student Tim Tai threatened, harassed and interfered with while covering a story of national concern in a public place was inappropriate and uncalled for,” Osterreicher said.
“And to have some of those involved in that interference be identified as school faculty – who should know better – is even more disconcerting,” Osterreicher said. “The students were exercising their First Amendment right to free speech and to peaceably assemble for a redress of their grievances against the school’s president. Tai was also carrying out his free speech and free press rights as a citizen and journalist.”
“Aside from these constitutional rights, which only come into play if the government abridges them (the faculty can be seen as state actors and therefore they might), is the right to privacy. It should be understood that people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place. Journalist Tai did not need permission to take anyone’s photograph. It is one thing to politely ask someone not to take a photograph, and quite another to try to intimidate someone from doing so,” Osterreicher said.
NPPA’s lawyer said, after seeing the video, that “both the students and their teachers are ‘ill-informed,’ and those who physically interfered with, and threatened journalist Tai, could have been charged with third degree assault under Missouri law.”
“Fortunately Tai acted with the highest degree of professionalism while continuing to carry out his assignment,” Osterreicher said.
“We hope the school administration will investigate this incident and take appropriate disciplinary action if necessary,” Osterreicher said. “It should also be used as a teachable moment where the school organizes a presentation to inform students and faculty as to the rights of others. As we have done in other situations around the country, NPPA has already reached out to the school to offer our assistance in this regard.”
Dolan concluded, “News outlets have reported that the university's board of curators has announced new initiatives to help address racial tensions on the campus and to help educate students, faculty and staff on racial issues. That’s an important step for the University of Missouri community - this incident shows that the board of curators would do well to develop initiatives that would also educate their community on the First Amendment. And clearly, that educational process should begin with some of their faculty members."
The dean of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, David Kurpius, has issued a statement on MU Students' coverage of yesterday's protests on Carnahan Quad, as well as the status of assistant professor Melissa Click, who is a Communications assistant professor who only holds a "courtesy" appointment to the Journalism school.