Court Ruling Grants Protection to Citizen Journalists

( – A new ruling from a federal court has reaffirmed the rights of individuals unaffiliated with media organizations to engage in constitutionally protected journalistic activity. The ruling comes out of a case in which one citizen journalist is suing a local county in Texas after he was removed from a press conference under the rationale that he was “not a journalist.”

Justin Pulliam was kicked out of a press conference in 2021, in Fort Bend, Texas and later that year he was arrested for covering police interactions with an individual who was having a mental health episode.

The case shows the dangers of what can happen when the government is allowed to define who is and is not a journalist, and if someone is covering something the government doesn’t want to be publicized they can be arrested and shut down.

A similar attitude was taken toward Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks who covered incredibly embarrassing video leaks and diplomatic cables, hampering U.S. foreign policy. Assange’s activity was redefined as “espionage” and “hacking” and he’s been held in a London maximum security prison while his extradition to the U.S. is endlessly debated by the UK government.

The ruling will allow the case to continue, accepting only one of the police department’s dismissal claims. The claim for unlawful search and seizure of Pulliam’s equipment was dismissed, but all his other allegations will proceed. The court rejected the rationale that the police were immune to prosecution under qualified immunity and that Pulliam did not have standing to bring a case against them.

The precedent was established in 2017 by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In that incident, a man was arrested for failing to identify himself while he was filming across the street from a police station in Texas. He was eventually let go and had his equipment returned after being briefly detained by officers, but he filed a civil rights lawsuit which led to an appeal that established a citizen’s right to film police in public.

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