From Zoë Berg, SPJ Communications Specialist
The Society of Professional Journalists is grateful that a judge dismissed all charges against Oregon Public Broadcasting journalist April Fonseca Ehrlich, who was arrested two years ago while covering the police removal of houseless campers from a public park.
SPJ and its Legal Defense Fund have been active and vocal in defending Ehelich’s right to report the truth. SPJ joined a large coalition of news outlets and press freedom groups led by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“It is crucial that reporters covering law enforcement operations can do their job without barriers. Gathering the facts means seeing what is happening, which is what April Ehrlich did when covering the September 2020 police removal of houseless campers from a park,” said SPJ National President Rebecca Aguilar. “We appreciate the judge on this case and for understanding the role of the local media and the reporter’s goal only to inform the public with accurate information.”
Ehrlich was arrested on Sept. 22, 2020, while covering evictions at Hawthorne Park for NPR affiliate Jefferson Public Radio. Police had instructed the media to move to a “media staging area,” but Ehrlich moved to get closer to get an accurate report. At the time of her arrest, Jefferson Public Radio said in a statement that the staging area was located “where it was not possible to adequately see or hear interactions between police officers and campers, or gather audio.”
The trial was scheduled for Sept. 16 and 19, but the two misdemeanor charges — trespass and resisting arrest — were dismissed shortly before the trial was set to begin.
SPJ’s LDF is a unique account that can be tapped for providing journalists with legal or direct financial assistance. The primary role of the Fund is to initiate and support litigation that enforces public access to government records and proceedings, which can be the most expensive way to defend the First Amendment. The fund can also be a source of support for Freedom of Information hotlines, coalitions and newsletters, as well as for legislative lobbying activities aimed at enforcing public access to government records and proceedings.
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