Over the labor day weekend, Amy Goodman, host and executive producer for Democracy Now!, covered altercations between security guards working for the Dakota Access pipeline company and protesters in North Dakota. In her report, security guards were seen using dogs and pepper spray against the Native American - led protesters. On September 8, Morton County, North Dakota, issued a warrant for Goodman’s arrest, charging her with criminal trespass. None of the security guards from the video have been charged to date.
The footage of the altercation quickly went viral with more than 13 million views on Facebook, and was rebroadcast on outlets such as CBS, NBC, NPR.org, CNN, MSNBC, and Huffington Post. According to the criminal complaint, the charges are based on the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s viewing of Goodman’s report. In a sworn affidavit, Special Agent Lindsey Wohl stated that “Goodman can be seen on the video identifying herself and interviewing protestors [sic] about their involvement in the protest."
“Charging a journalist with criminal trespassing for covering an important environmental story of significant public interest is a direct threat to freedom of the press and is absolutely unacceptable in the country of the First Amendment, says Delphine Halgand, RSF’s US Director. This is clearly an attempt on the part of the North Dakota authorities to intimidate reporters from covering this topic in the future.”
In a statement, Amy Goodman said that her arrest warrant "is an unacceptable violation of freedom of the press. I was doing my job by covering pipeline guards unleashing dogs and pepper spray on Native American protesters.”
At this time, neither the North Dakota State’s Attorney’s Office nor the North Dakota Governor’s Office have replied to RSF’s requests for comment.
This is not the first time that journalists have been arrested for covering protests in the United States. In July, at least three journalists were arrested and charged with “obstruction of a highway” while covering #blacklivesmatter protests in Louisiana. Last year, several journalists were arrested or attacked while covering different #blacklivesmatter protests in Minneapolis and Baltimore.
The United States ranks 41 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.
Image credit: Robyn BECK / AFP