Daily Collegian photographer likely to face charges for taking photographs at riot

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, charges against the student photographer Michael Felletter are likely to be refiled. Michael Felletter, a photographer for Penn State’s newspaper The Daily Collegian, was charged with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse after taking photographs during a post-Ohio State football game riot and disobeying orders from policemen to leave the area. Prosecutors dropped charges against Felletter last Wednesday but expect to refile them this week.

County District Attorney Michael Madeira has argued that this is not a first amendment case, but the editors of The Collegian argue that this case has important first amendment ramifications:

Because of the freedoms the First Amendment ensures, [Felletter] had the right to photograph the riot as a member of the press, both to document the historical significance and to serve as a watchdog for police and student actions.

In response to the prosecution’s argument that Felletter “was taking photographs that would excite the crowd and encourage destructive behavior,” The Daily Collegian argues:

To accuse Felletter of exacerbating a dangerous situation serves as a serious threat to the freedom of the press to cover an event of this magnitude.

The Daily Collegian concedes that public safety must be a priority over freedom of the press, but denies that Felletter was posing any threat to public safety. This case causes one to wonder if student reporters are treated with the same respect as other reporters. If this had been a reporter from a TV station or city newspaper, would he have illicited the same reponse? As students, bloggers, and independent reporters become an increasingly important force in the media, one hopes that they will enjoy the same protections afforded to other members of the press.

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