Most of the cases I write about end up getting dismissed without going to trial, but because there are always new cases to write about, I never get around to writing about the actual dismissals.
I’m hoping to implement a feature on this blog by next year to better keep track of these dismissals.
That is why I was surprised to learn today that prosecutors plan to proceed with charges against Nicolas Tanner, the Ohio University photojournalism student arrested on Halloween night for photographing an ambulance scene while standing on a public sidewalk.
“This is a problem that we continue to see,” he said. “There are so many people who believe that if they tell somebody to stop taking pictures in public, that there’s an authority to do that, and there isn’t.”
If Tanner was standing on the sidewalk as he claims, taking pictures of something on public view, and not actively interfering with the emergency personnel, Osterreicher said, he had a right to keep doing that.
He added that in many cases like Tanner’s, police simply claim a defendant was interfering with official activities, and leave out the fact that he or she was taking pictures.
“What I find interesting here is, this is one of the first times I’ve seen where they talk about photography,” he said. “The fact that they recognize that he’s taking pictures is interesting.”
He also noted that in his view, whether or not Tanner was on assignment for a news publication – there’s no indication in court documents that he was – is legally irrelevant. Some case law, Osterreicher said, indicates that the rights of the press and those of the public are “co-extensive” as far as taking pictures of public events – in other words, someone not employed as a journalist has no fewer rights in this area than a working reporter.
The attorney acknowledged that right-to-privacy issues might arise in connection with photographing an emergency patient, but added that these would not kick in until the pictures were published somewhere – they would not come into play at the time the pictures were being taken.
Osterreicher noted that both Athens and the state of Ohio have laws against obstructing official business; the state statute, however, includes language not in the city ordinance, stating that nothing in the law “shall be construed to limit access or deny information to any news media representative in the lawful exercise of the news media representative’s duties.” He suggested that with two overlapping laws such as these, the one that’s more restrictive in limiting police powers over free speech should govern.
Tanner has a pre-trial hearing scheduled for January 16. Read the letter Osterreicher sent to the police chief and mayor here.