When is it Safe to Publish Evidence of an Insurrection?

I’ve been in far too many sticky situations with digital cameras in places where trust and safety are unclear, even having to navigate my way out of angry crowds and guns being pointed. Some of them have been mentioned on this blog before.

It is from this personal experience I was excited to read a new article that begs questions of safety, trust and journalistic integrity, related to images taken during US insurrection January 6th.

Journalists argue that if they are forced to reveal confidential sources or turn over any news information they have gathered but not yet published, it will erode the trust of sources and the public, who will doubt the independence that journalists often claim.

“Not yet published” is a weird battle to fight.

If a journalist asked for explicit consent to embed and then publish the images (to public), then there’s no reason to not publish the images (consent already granted and police are members of the public).

And if a journalist didn’t ask permission to take images, then they aren’t violating anything since they never sought consent in the first place.

Either way if they refuse to share images with the public (e.g. as compelled for a social good like public safety, usually by the police) it doesn’t seem tied to any formal trust relationship with those the journalists were recording.

The article goes on to say the issue is the journalists now are being targeted and physically threatened with harm by the violent groups they photographed.

I have been studying the law regarding journalists and their sources for nearly 24 years. To my knowledge, U.S. journalists have rarely made the argument that they could face physical danger if they are forced to turn over information they have gathered. The closest parallel is a Washington Post reporter who successfully fought a subpoena from a war crimes tribunal 20 years ago because of fears of retribution in foreign conflict zones.

One possible solution would be for news outlets to publish all images that have not already been published on their websites.

Reasonable solution. Again the “not yet” is weird to me. If the authorization level is public than why not just go forward with making them pubic? The real reason doesn’t seem to be violation of trust or integrity — there would be more trust and integrity if they were published as originally intended.

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