On May 3rd, the News/Media Alliance joined 46 other organizations in a letter calling for the City of Asheville and Buncombe County Officials to drop all charges against two journalists arising from their arrest in December 2021. The journalists, Matilda Bliss and Veronica Coit, were arrested and subsequently convicted in a bench trial for trespassing while they were recording police conducting a homeless encampment sweep at a public park. The letter, sent on World Press Freedom Day, explains that “[t]he sole basis for Bliss and Coit’s prosecution appears to be that the park closed at 10p.m. A government interested in transparency should not want to set a precedent that journalists cannot cover newsworthy events, in plain sight and on public land, at night. The news does not keep regular business hours and citizens are entitled to know what police are doing at any hour.” The journalists have appealed to a jury trial.
The Alliance condemns pointless prosecutions of journalists for simply doing their jobs, the effect of which will only serve to chill the reporting of matters of public concern. The letter, led by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, has a wide array of signers from press and civil liberties organizations including Reporters without Borders, the National Press Club and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Read more.
Charlotte McBirney is Senior Counsel and Director, Public Policy for the News/Media Alliance.