What Exactly Are Reporters’ Rights?

Everybody knows that the First Amendment allows for freedom of the press.  It gives journalists the power to report stories without the fear of persecution and prosecution.  But in a world that is becoming increasingly privatized, just how far does the First Amendment really go?

Every story that you read online, in the paper or in a magazine requires some type of access for a journalist to report a full and unbridled story, but access can be difficult to attain.  You can assume that in a public setting it would be easy for a journalist to carry on and report without any threat of censorship, but that’s not always the case.

Last week a story was posted in Gothamist that detailed how one journalist, Jen Chung, was asked to leave the National 9/11 Memorial for unknowingly breaking the rules.  She decided to visit the memorial on her day off and at the time was not touring the memorial as a journalist, per se, but as an interested New Yorker.  She witnessed an argument between two patrons and addressed one by stating that she was a reporter and was interested to know what the argument was about.  Nothing came of the quick conversation, but while continuing to walk through the memorial she was approached by three separate security guards and finally asked to leave.

Chung was told that asking questions as a reporter was prohibited at the memorial unless she was granted a press pass.  As stated in her article, How I got Kicked Out Of The 9/11 Museum, she had no initial intentions of reporting when she first arrived, and told the first guard that she would ask no more questions.  The woman that she was conversing with, she said, also seemed very willing to talk.

Chung explains in her story that she had reached out to the press office of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum multiple times for a press pass but never received a response.  After the day she was asked to leave she reached out again.

“If you go to our website, it clearly states that all media access has to be cleared through my office.  I don’t recall providing Mrs. Chung a pass for reporting purposes,” wrote Michael Frazier, Vice President of Communications for the memorial and museum.

When the National 9/11 Museum opened to the public earlier this month a whirlwind of stories attacked the integrity of the sacred space.  Protestors argue that the resting place of some 1,115 unidentified victims that are kept at the site, is being turned into a spectacle for tourists.  Perhaps it was the negative press generated by the slew of tchotchkes that decorate the walls of the gift shop at the memorial that put Frazier on edge, but why the need to censor the press?

I understand that in a place like the memorial and museum that there should be an understood respect between everyone and that reporters shouldn’t have free range to accost patrons.  But Chung was escorted out of the building after asking one question, and even after agreeing not to answer any more, yet the women who got in the argument were never spoken to.

I also believe that rules are necessary to keep order in an emotionally delicate place such as the memorial and museum, but should the rules be so black and white?  It seems as though there is intentional censorship by a place that is ‘opened to the public,’ but only when it comes to reporters.  Why do the journalists need to be kept on a short leash when the rest of the public is given a free pass?

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and FoxNews.com.
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