As we mentioned already, the conventions are creatures of chaos.
Thousands of journalists and even more demonstrators will descend upon
these cities. These crowds are typically met with an overwhelming police presence, and the clashes between protesters and the police typically
result in numerous arrests. Avoiding police detention as a journalist is often a challenge, as a large tangle of laws regulates crowd behavior,
and police often enforce these complex laws with sweep arrests of whole
Many experienced journalists are not strangers to such tough situations, but the nature of the conventions as "national special security events" presents special concerns, especially around the norms journalists
establish with local law enforcement. The Secret Service takes the lead
during these national security events, and the normal journalist–police
relationships that allow journalists to report from over police lines
are likely to be jettisoned in favor of a strict enforcement of the law.
It is vitally important for journalists to understand the fundamental
mechanics of the law while on the ground, so they can be aware of when
their actions risk arrest.
To that end, we have provided this guide as an overview of the various
legal issues presented at the RNC and DNC. Topics in the guide include
an overview of basic press freedoms, a
discussion of what pack in order to prepare for the situation on the
ground, information as to how crowd assembly and speech is regulated (so
a journalist can be aware of when police may take action against a
crowd of demonstrators), laws related to recording in public, a
walkthrough on how to react to interactions with the police, and a
review on how your rights change when you are reporting on private land.
The guide covers the law in both Tampa and Charlotte as it exists
today, with helpful information drawn in from reports on past
The guide is designed to allow the reader to engage at whatever the depth he or she needs. You can review the entire document, or turn to the a summary section at the front and refer to the main
text as you like; readers can engage at whatever depth they need.
(There's even a one-sheet printout for those that just want to have
something to reference while on the ground in Tampa and Charlotte.) We
have tried to make the law as clear as it can be, and noted how the
police have handled enforcing the law at previous conventions, and where journalists ran into trouble.
The guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 Unported license, so please feel free to copy, print, re-post, circulate, and
share this guide with anyone planning on reporting from the conventions, or studying issues related to press treatment at the conventions.
I certainly did not act alone in pulling this thing together. A big
thank you is due to Jeff Hermes, David Ardia, Josh Stearns, Dalia
Topelson, and Kit Walsh, and, of course, to our crack DMLP interns:
Kristin Bergman, Lauren Campbell, Tabitha Messick, Natalie Nicol, and
Andy Sellars is the DMLP Staff Attorney, and the Corydon B. Dunham
First Amendment Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.