Chris Braithwaite, a long-time journalist and publisher of the award-winning Barton Chronicle, was arrested on Lowell Mountain Monday. He was reporting on the protests of GMP’s industrial wind farm when an Orleans County Sheriff’s deputy arrested him. He was cited with trespassing and processed at the state police barracks in Derby along with six protesters.
The arresting officer was Orleans County Chief Deputy Sheriff Phil Brooks. The arrest was later explained by Sheriff Kirk Martin who stated, “He [Braithwaite] was on GMP property. He was asked to leave and refused to comply.”
Yesterday Robin Smith reported that the deputies on the hill knew Chris and offered him an opportunity to cover the story from a nearby property. Chris argued that the distance from the adjacent property to the protest was too far away to enable him to do his job.
Smith also reported that Chris had no special exception to be on GMP private property without GMP’s consent. Brooks apparently asked GMP if anyone could be on their property. They said no, effectively, arrest everyone.
But Chris, a talented and seasoned journalist, was covering a story. Take the protesters away and Chris would most certainly have followed. His attendance on the hill benefits everyone.
He shouldn’t have been arrested.
The First Amendment guarantees that the press will be free from overreach or interference from the government. By letter of the law it does not preempt individual property rights. Tabling the narrow legal discussion for a moment, however, an on-site journalist favors all parties – the police, GMP and the protesters.
The job of the journalist is to provide an objective third-party account, to document events and offer unbiased context for them. There is a delicate peace on Lowell Mountain, enforced by hired guns, and enjoyed by mutually distrusting parties – GMP and the protesters. Both groups want their good practices noted and liability protection should things go bad. People behave better when others are watching and taking Chris off the mountain heightens the probability of a bad outcome. It also makes the public suspicious.
GMP, which looks absolutely terrible in the case of Lowell Mt., surely wants to avoid an explosive he-said-she-said battle between forces on the mountain. Not that they can look much worse, but asking police to arrest a reporter cannot possibly be construed as a public relations win.
Certainly police have a tough job and we’re appreciative, sharing emotionally charged environments with cops as often as we do, for their typically enlightened, laissez-faire treatment of reporters. Journalists, who also have a tough job and are trained to stay out of the way, don’t expect to be above the law. They do, however, expect freedom from harassment that is guaranteed by clear and unambiguous legal protections. In this case GMP would certainly have been well-served to observe the spirit of those protections.
So while GMP shows no appreciation for the obvious value of the media, we applaud Chris for standing his ground. This is the latest sad chapter in a truly grotesque tale.
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