Ohio authorities ignore Supreme Court to arrest journalist

Freedom of the Press Foundation

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An Ohio newspaper editor was charged with felony wiretapping for publishing audio that a source recorded during a high profile murder trial. In other words, he was arrested for practicing journalism.

The charges against Derek Myers of the Scioto Valley Guardian ignore the Supreme Court’s recognition over two decades ago that reporters are not to blame for unlawful recordings by sources. In fact, the issue has been settled since the Pentagon Papers. It’s up to judges, not journalists, to enforce courtroom confidentiality rules.

The ordeal should alarm all those who value press freedoms. Abuses of state and local law to target journalists are every bit as dangerous as abuses of the Espionage Act at the federal level but they often fly under the radar. Myers’ arrest is even more disturbing considering that the judge presiding over the murder trial, Randy Deering, may have harbored a personal grudge against Myers for successfully challenging his prior ban on filming witnesses.

The Guardian’s troubles did not end with Myers’ arrest. Another judge, Anthony Moraleja, approved a search warrant that led to the seizure of the laptop the Guardian had been using to livestream the trial and his cellphone was seized as well. As the Committee to Protect Journalists noted, the seizure — presumably intended to discover the source of the audio recording — ignores Ohio’s shield law and the federal Privacy Protection Act. In addition to violating Myers’ personal rights and preventing the Guardian from continuing its livestream, the warrant and seizure will surely have a chilling effect on sources who may have thought they could rely on the law to keep their identities secret.

That Myers could face prison time and property seizures notwithstanding Supreme Court precedent and supposed legal protections goes to show that journalists cannot depend on the law alone. It’s vital that judges and other local officials face a strong public backlash when they harass journalists and ignore press freedoms.