Protests at American universities are attracting some attention in the media at the moment, but not necessarily for the right reasons. The first I heard of this was videos posted to reddit, raw footage from the protest, appearing to show protesters entering into heated discussion with one of their professors over a recent email concerning race and Halloween costumes.
Then at University of Missouri, a student journalist attempting to photograph a public demonstration is asked not take photos by the demonstrators.
I’m not concerned here with looking at the details of the protests, but rather the debate over citizen rights with a view to recording public events. In the first Yale case, it’s harder to ascertain who recorded this, whether siding with the protesters or university, but the protesters seem unconcerned, assuming that this will be unbiased documentation of their protest and their concerns. In many online discussions however, they don’t come off well. In the second video, we might consider the moral rights of the photographer to be their filming, irrespective of University or any other legal policy. On the one hand, this is a public protest, where the agenda is arguably for a case to heard, and seen, by wider publics. So the photographer is perfectly right to assume they would want to be and welcome being photographed. On the other hand, and on the basis of this video, we don’t know what has gone before or after this video, how he approached them, how long he has been there photographing them, who he ‘is’ to some of these students, whether he has a reputation for ‘bad reporting’, etc. Are there other photographers there and how were they received?
What would you do in his place? If this is a one-off coverage of the event, that’s different to someone who might be looking to build relationships with protesters for a longer investigative piece, including interviews. And so you might consider backing down and leaving in that situation, to be able to come back and contact them later. Just because we have the right to film or photograph in the street, does that make it okay in every situation? Or is he to be commended for setting an example and standing up for his rights?