Law \ Legal

SPJ Condemns Arrest of Ohio Journalist Accused of Wiretapping

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) released a statement Monday condemning the arrest of Scioto Valley Guardian Editor-in-Chief Derek Myers, joining the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in condemning the arrest.

“When the First Amendment rights of one journalist are suppressed, all journalists are impacted,” said Claire Regan, SPJ national president, in the statement. “SPJ stands by Derek Myers in his efforts to seek truth and report it, a guiding principle in the Society’s Code of Ethics.”

Myers, a member of SPJ, had attended the organization’s board meeting where he asked SPJ to condemn his arrest.

Myers was covering a murder trial when his outlet was accused of wiretapping on Oct. 31 after his outlet posted audio leaked from the trial.

The charge against him is a fourth-degree felony under Ohio law, which carries six to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

News outlets were allowed to broadcast the proceedings during the trial, and the Guardian had live-streamed much of it. However, a witness received an “opt out” from having his testimony recorded, which Myers and other news outlets challenged unsuccessfully.

However, the Guardian received a recording of the testimony from a courthouse source, which they published.

Soon after Myers publication also published the recording, a Pike County Court judge signed a search warrant, and Myers was arrested.

“Our equipment was seized,” Myers said during the SPJ meeting. “Our laptops, cell phones were seized.”

According to the arrest warrant, Myers was charged because he “use[d]” an unlawful recording “knowing or having reason to know” the recording was unlawfully made.

But the SPJ statement argues that the Supreme Court has clarified that the First Amendment protects journalists’ rights to publish materials that someone else obtained unlawfully, even if they know the source did not legally get the information.

“It is a journalist’s job to keep the public informed and Myers did just that by publishing information he was given by a confidential and trusted source,” SPJ’s statement said. “Myers should not face prosecution for simply doing his job as a journalist.”

The SPJ statement comes a month after the CPJ condemned Myers’s arrest.

“The incompetency of local law enforcement to abide by basic legal proceedings would be comical if it were not so concerning,” said CPJ U.S. and Canada Program Coordinator Katherine Jacobsen in the statement.

“Not only have Pike County authorities confiscated journalist Derek Myers’ cellphone and the Scioto Valley Guardian’s laptop without presenting a valid warrant, but they have also lobbed wiretapping charges against Myers for keeping the community informed about an ongoing murder trial. Retaliating against a news outlet, especially a small local publication, for doing their jobs in matters of public interest is completely unacceptable.”

During the SPJ board meeting, Myers said he is one of two full-time workers on his outlets’ member team, including members who aren’t reporters.

According to the CPJ statement, Myers told CPJ this outlet is losing some $500 every day they cannot live-stream the trial.

 


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