Filmmaker and environmentalist Josh Fox is to appear in court on 15 February on a charge of “unlawful entry” following his arrest in Congress on 1 February, when he was prevented from filming a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment on the grounds that he lacked press credentials. Offering no resistance, Fox was handcuffed, led away and then released without bail.
Fox is making a sequel to his acclaimed 2010 documentary film Gasland, in which he revealed the scale of the contamination of ground water resulting from the use of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to extract natural gas from oil shale. At the hearing, where Fox was scheduled to film, the subcommittee was due to receive a December 2011 report from the Environmental Protection Agency that confirmed his findings.
“The right to inform and be informed, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, was violated twice in this case,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Firstly, Fox’s arrest and expulsion constituted a flagrant act of censorship that was all the more absurd as an official video recording of the hearing is available on the subcommittee’s website.
“Secondly, Fox is following an issue of vital interest, one that needs the most complete and transparent airing possible. By crudely sidelining an observer it regards as undesirable, the subcommittee just fuelled suspicion about its cosy relationship with the mining industry to the detriment of ordinary citizens who want it held to account for its impact on public health.”
Even if Fox is acquitted on 15 February, he continues to be on the Department of Homeland Security’s Terror Watch list, to which he was added after Gasland’s release.
“We urge Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to lift this stigma without delay,” Reporters Without Borders added. “Branding a US citizen as a possible terrorism suspect without any grounds other than the fact that he provides others with information is the worst kind of smear. It cannot be ruled out that this will count against him at his trial on 15 February. This would be an additional denial of due process and another violation of the basic rights he has already been denied.”
The United States rankings fell by 20 in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index in large part because journalists were the victims of violence and obstruction while covering Occupy Wall Street protests. More examples have been registered, specially in Oakland, California, since the start of 2012.
But the rankings decrease was also due to the frequent difficulties journalists have in accessing public information, as documented in the Fox case.