California journalism student prepares for legal battle over photos
A 22-year-old journalism student who apparently witnessed a murder – and might even have photographs that would help police identify the killer – is fighting police attempts to obtain the photos.
The San Francisco student is claiming he is protected under California’s shield law, which allows reports to withhold unpublished information from police.
Police claim the shield law does not protect him because he is not affiliated with a news agency.
A hearing is scheduled for June 24, which will determine the outcome.
Meanwhile, the student has gone into hiding because he fears for his life. And the judge has sealed his identity to protect him.
The murder occurred on April 17th as the San Francisco State journalism student was documenting life in a predominantly black neighborhood in east San Francisco.
He was with a black 21-year-old business student named Norris Bennett, whom he had been following for months.
Bennett was playing a dice game on a street corner when he was gunned down. The student then called Bennett’s family, crying, telling them to come to the scene.
When police arrived on the scene, they saw the student taking photos of paramedics treating Bennett. When they tried to interview him, he declined.
On May 3, police obtained a warrant and searched his apartment, looking for the photographs and other evidence. They seized some items but it is not clear if they obtained the photographs.
The student has not returned to the apartment and has not been communicating with police. He is being represented pro bono by an attorney who works with the San Francisco State journalism department.
The case once again brings up the debate of who is a journalist and who is not a journalist.
In an era when anybody can publish their content on the internet for the world to see, the lines have become increasingly muddled.
In fact, a bill titled the Free Flow of Information Act 2009 seeks to define journalists by solely those who make a living off it.
However, the issue is much more complex than that now that newspapers are starting to use blogger feeds as part of their online features, and that virtually everyone has some type of recording device with them at all times.
As we saw in the case of the U.S. Airways plane landing in the Hudson River, anyone can be published worldwide instantly by just being at the right place at the right time.
Or as in the case of the journalism student, at the wrong place at the wrong time.
To me, the solution is simple. The photos surrounding the murder must be published.
That is what journalists do, after all. Shed light on the truth.