Knight Center
Knight Center


Journalists and citizens denounce abuses of authority through cell phone cameras and social networking

Cellular phone cameras have become a powerful tool for journalists and citizens in reporting requests for bribes and other excessive uses of power. In Mexico, cellular phones and social networks have also become a popular form to broadcast abuses of power, attempts at electoral fraud, and demonstrations of citizens against the police. In Brazil images of police abuse against reporters and protestors have been shared throughout numerous cities in the country.

Photo: KitAy via Flickr

Whether in Mexico, Brazil or the United States, the police and other security forces have responded to these cellular phone cameras by arresting those journalists and citizens who are recording them. In Mexico, one of the most recent cases was that of Roberto Hernández, director of the documentary Presunto Culpable ("Presumed Guilty" in Spanish), who was arrested in Mexico City after recording the police conducting an arbitrary arrest.

Reporters are frequently being attacked due to recording security forces or the inappropriate conduct of a public official. According to the organization Article 19, attacks by security forces on journalists reveal the lack of training with respect to how to deal with the press. For that reason, the organization published the document General Principles for the Relation between the Armed Forces and Public Security with the Press.

In Mexico, it is common for security agents to accuse photojournalists with "interfering with public safety." In the United States, several states prohibit the public or journalists from recording the police while they are performing their jobs without previous consent, which has led to a number of espionage charges in the past. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on various occasions that the First Amendment protects the right to record the police since “policemen, whose salaries come from public resources, and who are doing work in the name of public safety in a public space, do not have the right to privacy," according to Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society. But until now, only the state of Oregon has a law that guarantees the right for the public to record the police without previous consent.

Recording how public officials behave "can serve to prevent abuses or, in case they occur, that they do not go unpunished," wrote Ricardo González in his blog for Article 19 in Mexico. Nonetheless, both citizen journalists and members of the press should take some measures to protect any information on their phones and precautions to avoid aggressions when covering protests.


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