Today when I saw a six and a half minute video of photographer for ESPN, Tim Tai, being physically pushed out of a protest at the University of Missouri, I was struck by the irony of protestors claiming first amendment rights on public property and then preventing a photojournalist for exercising his first amendment rights.
Here’s the video:
Stupidity is a harsh word to judge these protestors blocking Tim from doing his job, but he is a photojournalist who was tasked with documenting the historic event. But protesters infringed on his right to do his job. This came just a day after President Tim Wolfe stepped down after Missouri football team members refused to play until changes were made. Wolfe resigned, and a tent city of protesters, mainly students and professors, continued to protest for even more change.
Ignorance is a better word to describe the reactions of the protest group ConcernedStudent1950, especially Melissa Click, an assistant professor of mass media at the University of Missouri. Towards the end of the video, you can see Click grab the video camera of Mark Schierbecker, a video journalist, who shot the entire confrontation. Click alerts the other protestors to Schierbecker who then swiftly push him out along with Tai.
Mob justice was the order and mentality of the protesters who believed they had the legal right to stop Tai and Schierbecker from documenting the protest. Media censorship is something I have come to expect from governments and corporations trying to suppress and control information that is released to the public, but when common citizens feel it is right to censor the constitutional rights of a journalist, there is something wrong.
The role of a journalist/photojournalist is to objectively report on events in history to provide an unbiased view of what is happening around the world. Without the lens of the camera, history is easily forgotten. What would’ve happened if photojournalists weren’t allowed into Rwanda during the genocide? Would we understand what really happened without seeing video and photographs from photographers? A camera is a powerful tool, and photojournalists who use them are giving us a first-hand account into important events.
Where would be if information that affects the citizenry of a country is not reported because someone feels it shouldn’t be? Without a free press, and without the first amendment, the world is a darker place ruled by the opinion of those who hold power, not the people it serves.
I may be taking this story a little too far in terms of comparing it to tyranny, but it is just a sign that people are unaware of what is at stake when it comes to freedom of expression and opinion. Without the ability to think freely, and to speak freely, or to capture events, ideas are certain to die at the hands of those who impose their will on them.
It is time for photographers to educate everyone on the importance of photojournalism and objective reporting. Without it, it is just one more right taken away from our freedom.
To read a similar article where photographers were beaten during the Baltimore riots this year, click here.